Monday, March 25, 2013

Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland - Chapter 16


“That’s the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard!” Mitch exploded when I called him later.
“I’m just telling you what she said.”
“Candace has always been imaginative, but this takes the cake.”
“I guess my great-grandfather might’ve done something like that, but…”
“Without leaving you a clue?”
“Maybe he did.”
“Trixie, get serious.”
“I am—I think.”
“So you really believe Candace’s story holds water?”
“I’m just saying it could.”
“Picture me shaking my head and muttering ‘She’s lost it’.”
I laughed. “I can see you.”
“Would I be pushing my luck if I asked you to dinner again tonight?”
“No, but I’m kind of worried about someone breaking in again while I’m gone. No one’s supposed to know which room I’m in, but…”
“Well, you know the old saying, how lightning doesn’t strike twice.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“No, but I’m sure I’m not up for going home to a frozen dinner.”
“Okay, you’re on.”
“Meet me at the same place, and we’ll go somewhere else from there. Six o’clock okay?”
“Be careful, Trixie. I don’t want to have to come looking for you.”
I went in search of lunch and found the Cozy Café still operating on the corner of Main and Elm. It was almost empty at eleven o’clock. I ordered a grilled cheese sandwich and settled into a booth near the front where I could watch people coming and going. The downtown was dying but not yet dead. Could anything infuse new life into it? Rudy James had tried with the Twilight Bar, and it always seemed full in the evenings. But a bar couldn’t bring new businesses to occupy the sad empty buildings lining once-bustling streets.
After lunch, I took my time walking back to the Lloyd House and caught sight of Danny Jefferson coming out of Kemp’s Computer Repair. When I waved, he turned his face away. “Hi, Danny, what’s your rush?” I called.
He stopped dead still, a slight figure in jeans and a neatly-pressed shirt open at the neck. “Hi, Trixie,”
he said without enthusiasm.
“You’re not working today?”
“I get Thursdays off,” he said, still not meeting my eyes. “I just left Dee’s laptop to get fixed.”
“Oh, I see.”
“I wish she’d go home.”
“You don’t like her living back with you and your mom?”
He shook his head. “I love Dee. She’s my best friend. But she needs to go home to Rudy.”
“Well, I agree with you there.”
“Rudy’s my friend, too. He says we’re brothers.”
“People need all the friends and family they can get.”
“He came into the store the other day and asked Mr. Landers who’d been mean to me.”
“That’s what big brothers do, Danny.”
“I know.”
“Did Mr. Landers tell him?”
“He didn’t know their names.”
“Did you?”
“No, but…” He stopped abruptly.
“But what?”
“Dee knows them. They work for her boss, too, except they don’t live here.”
“What do they do for him?”
“I don’t know, but…”
Another but.
“They’re mean. They call me names, and they scare Dee.”
I wasn’t going to pursue the name-calling. “How do they scare Dee?”
“They want her to do things she shouldn’t do.”
I decided not to pursue that one either.
“I did something I shouldn’t do, too,” he said.
“We all do things like that, Danny, but we’re sorry, and we try not to do those things again.”
He nodded. “I’m real sorry, but I had to do it.”
“Why do you think you had to do it?”
“They said…” His voice trailed off.
“They? The men who called you names?”
“I have to take care of Mom and Dee.”
“I’m sure you do a good job.”
“I try real hard. I got a raise the other day.”
“Good for you!”
“I gotta go,” he said. “Mom’s home by herself.”
“Tell her I said hello. I’ll bet she remembers me.”
He smiled then. “I will, Trixie.”
“And Danny—I hope I’m  your friend, too, and if you ever need anything…some help with something or just to talk…”
I was sure I saw fear in his eyes before he turned and hurried off.
The encounter left me unsettled, and I shared it with Mitch over pizza that night. “Danny has developmental disabilities,” I said, “and he wants to please. It would be easy to manipulate him.”
“Or threaten him?” Mitch asked.
The pizza sat suddenly heavy in my stomach. “I hadn’t thought of that.”
“You don’t suppose he had anything to do with breaking into your room last night, do you?”
“No! Not Danny!”
“It was just a thought.”
“An awful one.”
“But he did seem skittish with me,” I said after a minute. “Almost like he was afraid of me, and he was real friendly the day I saw him in the market.”
“There you go.”
“I don’t like where I’m going with it.”
“Then let’s change the subject. For the sake of argument, let’s say your great-grandfather left you a clue about something in the building. Where would it be?”
“That’s the problem—I have no idea.”
“Was there anything special about the building?”
“Not really. I used to stop by every afternoon after school to get a piece of candy. My great-grandfather kept a drawer full of peppermints, chocolate drops, cinnamon, butterscotch…all the stuff my mother didn’t keep at home.”
“That’s a nice memory.”
“His secretary sort of resented me coming by. Apparently they had a thing.”
“A thing?”
“They were involved. Having an affair.”
“Really? That’s interesting.”
“They were old.”
Mitch chuckled and helped himself to another slice of pizza. “Oh, come on, Trixie, you aren’t the kind of person who thinks that romance goes out the window when a person turns 50…are you?”
I felt myself blushing. “I guess not, but she wasn’t anything near a prize.”
“On the outside anyway.” He licked pizza sauce from his fingers. “Back to the building and what was special about it. Did he leave anything behind?”
The vision of the old desk on the second floor rose in my mind. “As a matter of fact, he did—his desk. I found it on the second floor, although how it got up there I have no idea. It’s one of those big rolltops, and there’s no elevator.”
“That’s interesting. Why would he leave his desk behind?”
“His wife didn’t want it in the house, according to my mother.”
“So did he keep the candy in the desk?”
I sat up straight. “Yes, he did! You don’t think…”
His eyebrows went up. “I think it bears checking out. Would you like some company?”

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