Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland - Chapter 12



CHAPTER TWELVE

She brought our lattes and sat down. “Your grandparents, Quimby and Lois, were from Chicago. He was part of Al Capone’s inner circle.”
            “Al Capone, the gangster?”
            “The Scarface himself. Your grandfather kept a low profile, though. On the face of things, they were the typical American family. Lois had a son from a previous marriage, Grover Fortunato. His father was a low-level crook who ended up floating in Lake Michigan. Anyway, he was about eleven when Quimby’s and Lois’s daughter Andrea was born.”
            I frowned. “You mean Lorraine.”
            Candace took a deep breath. “No, Trixie, I mean Andrea. Do you want me to go on?”
            “I don’t think you have much choice.” My heart pounded for a few minutes, then traveled to my throat and lodged there.
            She nodded. “Okay. Andrea was about fifteen at the end of World War II when she got herself mixed up with a soldier on leave, and the inevitable happened. She had the baby, a girl…”
            “My mother.” My voice came out a whisper. I tried to swallow my heart, but it seemed a permanent lodger in my throat.
            “Yes, and then she disappeared. I don’t know any more about her than that. But your grandparents—or great-grandparents, as it were—moved to Dreamland where no one knew Lorraine wasn’t their late-life baby.”
            “But my grandfather bought the Quimby Building much earlier, didn’t he?”
            “Right, April of 1929 according to the deed records in the courthouse. I guess everyone assumed he worked there from ’29 on, but he didn’t.  Apparently, he needed a cover for something, and where better than a little town barely on the map. How he found and settled on Dreamland, I have noidea.”
            “A cover for what?”
            “I haven’t figured that out yet, but I’m not giving up. However, I can show you a newspaper article from The Banner speculating on a sighting of Al Capone just before he went to prison. There was no mention of any connection to Quimby Lloyd, but it stands to reason Capone’s visit here was related to him.”
            Candace paused as if giving me time to digest the facts she’d fed me.
            “Did my mother know she wasn’t their daughter?”
            “I’m getting to that. Apparently there was no love lost between Andrea and her half-brother Grover, but he was grown by the time she got herself into trouble. I can’t connect the dots to the how and why of this part of the story, but just before your mother married, he turned up in Dreamland and told her the truth. Rumor has it that he tried to put the bite on his stepfather for some money, and Quimby turned him down. Anyway, that’s how she found out.”
            I felt a fleeting sympathy for my mother.
            “Rumor also has it that she was never the same after that.”
            “I’m not sure I would have been either. Did my father know?”
            “You’d have to ask him.”
            “I will. Is there more?”
            “Only that Quimby Lloyd kept his hand in the goings-on in Chicago—in absentia, of course. His will is public record, and he was worth a pretty penny.”
            “He only left me the building.”
            “Everything went to Lois and then to your mother. He did leave a small bequest for Andrea if she ever turned up. No one knows if she’s dead or alive.”
            “What happened to Grover Fortunato?”
            Candace sighed. “I'm guessing he went the way of his kind. He just sort of disappeared.”
            “You’re not thinking that there’s organized crime tied to what Parker Aiken’s mysterious buyer has in mind for Dreamland, are you?”
            “I have no idea. It’s always a possibility.”
            “Rudy James told me he has my back,” I mused. “I thought it sounded a little amateurish. It sounds more ominous now.”
            She shrugged. “The other thing you should know is, I’m the only one with this information. No one else, not Anne or Hetty, ever knew what I was researching, and it’s just as well. I made some copies for you, but if you take them, lock them up in the safe at the Lloyd House for now.”
            “Why? How would anyone know I had them if no one knew what you were doing?”
            “Just do it on principle.”
            “And keep this between the two of us?”
            “That’s up to you. It’s your family’s dirty laundry. I can’t tell you what to do with it.”
            “What made you dig into all this to begin with?” I asked.
            “I’m not sure. I think it started after I got the annulment from Guy. He was already tight as a tick with my brother-in-law Parker Aiken, and I never trusted Parker. Word got around that some anonymous developer wanted the downtown area. But it was what happened to the Drake sisters that fueled the fire. One thing led to another, and I just kept going. I figured you’d turn up eventually and have to deal with Parker. So, you need to know  what you’re dealing with.”
            “I don’t see how it even comes into play unless someone is wanting to build that industrial complex for illegal reasons.”
            “You never know.” She handed me a fat manila envelope sealed with packing tape. “Remember—the hotel safe.”
            “I’ll remember. Thanks.”
            She walked with me to my car. “I know this is a lot to swallow at one time, Trixie, but I never liked family secrets.”
            “Every family has them, I suppose.”
            “Yes, and when they finally come to light, they usually do a lot of damage. Just keep things in perspective. And keep in touch, huh?”
            I nodded. “I will. And thanks again.”
*****
            I spent the rest of the morning going through the contents of the envelope. Candace had documented her facts well, which was oddly comforting though I’d had no reason to distrust what she’d told me. I wondered if Lawrence White knew any of the information about my grandfather…great-grandfather. He was nearing retirement age and seemed genuinely interested in seeing I got a fair deal on the building…but were his motives pure? Had he kept secrets for Quimby Lloyd? Did he see a house built on the sand ready to crumble into the sea?
            At noon, when I knew my father would be home for lunch, I called him. “Did you know Mother was the Lloyd’s granddaughter instead of their daughter?” I asked bluntly.
            Dad didn’t say anything for a few seconds, but I heard him sigh. “Yes,” he said finally, “I knew. Lorraine told me a week before we married and wanted to call off the wedding. I told her the circumstances of her birth had nothing to do with who she was.”
            “Were you ever happy together, Dad?”
            “For a while. You were a good thing, Trixie. But then it all fell apart. She wasn’t ever the same after she found out the truth.”
            Candace King had alluded to rumors of the same thing.
            “I know you don’t get along with your mother, and I understand why, but give her break if you can.”
            “I’ll try.”
            “When are you coming to see us?”
            “Next week maybe. I’ll let you know.”
            “We all want to see you.”
            “I know, Dad. Thanks.”
            I hung up and took the envelope downstairs where the clerk gave me a receipt and then let me watch him put it in the safe in the back office. “Is everything all right with your room, Mrs. Collier?”
            “Just fine,” I said.
            “If you need anything…anything at all…”
            “Thank you. I’ll let you know.”
            The afternoon stretched out empty in front of me. I walked the downtown streets, remembering where all the shops had thrived when I was growing up. I thought about calling Mother, but I needed more time to think about things. I could understand her shock, even her feelings of betrayal, but she’d made her own decision about becoming who she was now.
 On the other hand, I’d made the conscious decision not to sit around sucking my thumb and feeling sorry for myself after Ned died. It would have been easy to do, and I’d had to work hard to take charge of my new life.  But then, maybe I was a stronger person than my mother. Maybe her benign neglect of me had contributed to that.
            Back in my room, I drank a bottle of water and watched television before I began to dress for dinner with Mitch Langworth.

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