My mother looked as unkempt as I’d ever seen her—no makeup, her hair coming loose from its normally sleek chignon, and wearing a flowered caftan clearly not meant for public scrutiny. I heard myself uttering the words I’d been saying to her all my life. “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry!” she screamed. “It’s too late for that! Way, way past too late.”
Though the lobby was empty at that hour except for the desk clerk and an idle bellboy, I reached for her to stop the hysteria. She stepped back. “You killed Guy. He was going to take me out of this horrible one-horse town.”
“I didn’t kill anybody,” I snapped, disgusted with her skewed logic. “And you have enough money to live anywhere you want to. You didn’t have to stay here after your parents died.”
“Parents? Parents?” She waved well-manicured hands in uneven circles.
“Mother…” I reached for her again.
“Get away from me!”
“You came to me,” I reminded her. “Not the other way around.” Mitch materialized at my elbow, but I waved him away. “Go home and calm down. We can talk…”
“Too late,” she wailed. “Too late for anything! Everything’s gone. Guy promised…”
A chilling thought formed in my mind. “Mother, you didn’t give him money, did you? Please tell me you didn’t.”
The tears spilling down her cheeks answered my question.
“Oh, Mother, why?”
“Because he was a con artist,” Mitch muttered. “How much did you give him, Mrs. Collier?”
“She goes by Lloyd,” I said and wondered why. It didn’t matter.
My mother clawed the rest of her hair loose from its coil. “He promised me! He promised me!”
Mitch turned to me. “Who’s her doctor? She’s beyond calming down on her own.”
The clerk leaned across the polished surface of the desk, his face a study in embarrassment and disgust. “Dr. Klum is on call for guests here.”
I nodded. “Then call him.”
Mother collapsed into a wingback chair and began to sob. I couldn’t understand what she was saying, and when I tried to comfort her, she shoved me away.
“Leave her alone,” Mitch said, taking my arm and moving me across the lobby.
Dr. Klum must have been out and about, because he appeared a scant ten minutes later. Mitch explained the situation.
“So she’s not a guest here?” the doctor asked.
“No, she lives in town.”
“Then she must have a personal physician in town.”
I shook my head. “I don’t know who it is.”
“Then I suggest you take her to the ER and see if they can find out. If it were a medical emergency…”
It took the three of us to get Mother into my car. Mitch rode with me and practically carried her into the ER. Fortunately, a nurse recognized her and said she’d call a Dr. Thomason whom she knew to be Mother’s doctor. She did, and by six o’clock, Mother had been admitted. Dr. Thomason said the sedative he’d given her would keep her sleeping for a good part of the day. I gave him my cell phone number, and Mitch and I left.
“Tell me this is just a nightmare, and I’ll wake up soon,” I said as I slid into the front seat after Mitch offered to drive. Then I laughed. “What a cliché!”
He shook his head. “We still have to get you another room.”
“After Mother’s performance, I’ll be surprised if they give me one.”
And they didn’t. The manager came out of his office and backed up the desk clerk. “It’s nothing personal, Mrs. Blake, but…”
“Actually, I understand,” I said. “I don’t like it much, but I understand.”
“She’ll need to pack her things,” Mitch said.
“I’ll have to call Chief Everton. That floor is off-limits to everyone.”
“Tell him I’ll leave town if he lets me have my clothes.”
“Where will you go?” Mitch asked.
“My father lives in Mountain View, and I promised to visit him this weekend anyway.”
The manager disappeared into his office to make his call.
You can’t drive up there without some sleep,” Mitch said.
The manager came back. “Chief Everton says he’ll telephone the officer he left upstairs and tell him to let you pack your things.”
Though Guy Langworth’s body had been removed, the blood remained. I gagged again and again as I moved around the room gathering my clothes and other belongings. The officer in charge, who watched every move I made, refused to let Mitch even come into the sitting room.
Finally I finished and left, sure the gore of the room had transferred itself to me. Mitch loaded my luggage into his car and drove me to a hotel a few miles up the interstate. “We’ll come back for your car after you’ve had some sleep,” he said.
“What about you?”
“I’m going home to bed. I’m guessing the ME won’t release Dad’s body for a few days, but I’ll take care of some arrangements when I drive you back to Dreamland.”
“You’re going to bury him there?”
“It’s as close to any permanent home as he ever had.”
“I’m so sorry, Mitch. You’ve been through all this so recently with your wife.”
“It was different with Macy,” he said. “With my father…well, it’s just not the same.”
“I understand that, but it won’t be easy.” He drove silently for a few minutes. “Do you have any ideas about who murdered him?”
“I can think of half a dozen people who won’t be glad he’s gone, but did any one of them have the motive for murder? I don’t know.”
“You don’t think Candace had anything to do with it?”
“No, but Lindy, her daughter, despised him.”
“Use your imagination.”
“While he was still married to her mother?”
“He was murdered in my hotel room for a reason.”
“Somebody was killing two birds with one stone as it were. Get rid of my father permanently and you less so. Maybe just scare you enough to sell that building after all.”
“He doesn’t have the guts to do something like that himself, but he has friends.”
“Like the friends who were nasty to Danny Jefferson.”
“Do you really think your father conned my mother out of a lot of money?”
“As much as he could get.”
“I almost felt sorry for her tonight.”
“It doesn’t cost you anything to have some compassion, does it?”
“I don’t know. Maybe not.”
“She’s the loser, not you.”
Mitch went into the hotel with me, waited until I checked in, and went upstairs as far as my door. “Call me when you wake up,” he said.
“Thank you for everything.”
He winked. “You can buy me breakfast.”
I showered and fell into bed, sure that I wouldn’t wake up until dinnertime.