Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland - Chapter 2


            “Trixie! Trixie Collier!” My finger hesitated millimeters from the elevator button as I heard my name called. The familiar face coming toward me brought a smile.
            “Well, Rudy James, look at you.” The boy I remembered in his statement-making tattered jeans, t-shirts with beer logos, and dirty, disreputable tennis shoes had become a man in fashionable chinos, a monogrammed golf shirt, and expensive leather loafers. His hair, which had always looked like someone plopped a bowl over his head and used pinking shears around it, was neatly slicked back in a ponytail that came to the bottom of his beefy neck.
            He grinned. “I’d rather look at you. Say, girl, you’re still a razzle-dazzler.”
            I took the hand he held out. “Thank you, Rudy.”
            “What in the world are you doing back here in Dreamland?”
            “It’s a long story.”
            “I’ve got time to listen if you’ve got time to tell it.” He gestured toward the front door. “My bar is just across the street.”
            “Your bar?”
            “The Twilight Bar, Rudy James, proprietor. But that’s not all I do.”
            “This I’ve got to see.”
            He offered me his arm. “Then let’s go. There’s a booth in the back with our names on it.”
            Through the dim lighting, I could still see the quality furnishings and subdued décor. The back wall, covered in tiny twinkling lights, looked like a starry night over Lake Ouachita. The leather on the booth we slid into smelled new.
            “I just opened a year ago,” he said. A young waitress, definitely not the scantily-clad sort who usually found employment in small bars, came over to the table almost before I could lay my purse on the seat. “What’ll it be, Trixie?” Rudy asked.
            “I’m still not much of a drinker,” I admitted.
            He smiled. “Bring the young lady a cherry lime,” he told the waitress. “I’ll have the same.”
            “Rudy, Rudy, Rudy, a cherry lime? I’ve seen you stewed.”
            “Not anymore, Trix.”
            “What happened?”
            “Oh, I hung out for a year after we graduated. Then my parents kicked me out and told me to get a life. So I did.”
            I raised my eyebrows. Denny and Sally James’ Chicken Shack had been a favorite with all of us, as much for their personal hospitality as for the crispy chicken and potato salad served up in generous proportions at a special student price. “How are your parents?”
            His smile faded. “Dad’s in a nursing home in Russellville. Stroke. Mom moved into an apartment over there so she could be with him.”
            “I’m so sorry, Rudy.”
            “Yeah, it was a bad one. Happened one day when he was opening up the Shack.”
            “Your parents are good people.”
            “I’m trying to live up to them.” Our cherry limes came, and he slipped his straw out of the paper wrapper.  From somewhere I heard the muted strains of Twilight Time. It seemed to inspire the other patrons in the almost-full room to soften their voices, too. “When I applied at UAR, the registrar suggested I clean myself up and come back with more than a silly grin on my face. I made myself presentable, found my birth certificate, and got a transcript from the high school. My grades were only so-so, but they let me in, and I did a business degree in three years.”
            “That’s wonderful, Rudy.”
            “Then I got my insurance license and opened up an office in town. I think people gave me their business more out of curiosity than anything else.”
            “Bad boy makes good.” I reached across the table and touched his arm. “I’m proud of you.”
            “I’ve done well, but I’ve worked hard at it. I bought some rental property on the west side of town. It’s doing pretty well. It paid for the Twilight last year. The sale of the Shack is keeping my folks going, but I’m proud to say I can step in if I have to.”
            “Why a bar?”
            “The downtown area is dying, Trixie. You must’ve seen in. I got this building for a song and tried to think of something that would bring people back to this area.”
            “I drove in after dark, so I haven’t seen much.”
            “Take my word for it then, and have a look around while you’re here.” He took another sip of his drink. “Which segues to the question, why are you here?”
            I tried to gather my thoughts. “You know about Ned, of course.”
            He nodded. “I was at the graveside military rites,” he said. “You didn’t see me, and I didn’t think it was the time to bother you.”
            “You were? That was nice of you, Rudy.”
            “Ned was a good guy. It’s a damn shame he didn’t end up a general.”
            “He would have, too.”
            “You’ve been all right, I guess.”
            “No financial worries. I have an antique business in Dallas. But to answer your question, I came back to do something about the building Grandfather Lloyd left me.”
            “The one on the south side of the square?The Quimby Building?”
            “Quimby Lloyd. I’d forgotten he called the building by his first name.”
            “You’ve got a nice piece of real estate there, Trix. But I guess you know that.”
            “Parker Aiken, Jr., has a buyer for it.”
            Rudy’s jaw tightened. “I’ll just bet he does.”
            “What does that mean?”
            “It means he’s trying to buy up the whole downtown area. I outbid him on this building when it came up for delinquent taxes.”
            “What does he want with all of it? You said the downtown was dying.”
            “Ah, but he wants to revive it, just not as a downtown area.” He leaned across the table. “Most of the county offices have already been moved out of the courthouse. It has structural issues, but it’s over a hundred years old. Get rid of that, tear down the other buildings—or renovate the newer ones—and…”
            “Not the Lloyd House!” My voice rose, and unexpected tears sprang to my eyes.
            He nodded. “Sorry, kiddo, it would go, too.”
            “I don’t even know who owns it now. My mother, I guess.”
            “Nope, she let it go about the time I opened my office. I know that because I wrote the policy on it for the new owners. They’re not local. Just bought it for investment purposes.”
            “The Lloyd House is a landmark in this town.”
            “For now.”
            “What does Parker Aiken want to do with downtown?”
            “I wish I knew. Ostensibly he’s buying it up for himself, but I expect someone else is behind him. Some development outfit. I’ve heard rumors that the entire area and then some is being looked at for a giant medical supply business. And nobody I talk to likes the idea. The town’s economy is sound. We always need new business, sure, but not some conglomerate gobbling us up.”
            I gritted my teeth to hold back the tears. “Well, he’s not going to get my building.”
            Rudy studied me for a minute. “Don’t make a hasty decision based on sentiment, Trix. They’ll offer you a fair-to-middling price and go up if you hold out for more.”
            “Read my lips,” I said. “That building is mine, and it’s going to stay mine.”
            He sat back against the tufted leather seat. “That’s not going to be a popular decision with Parker—and a few others.”
            “You said people don’t like the idea of…”
            “I said nobody I talked to. The town is by no means united in its opinions.”
            “How much of the downtown has Mr. Aiken been able to buy up so far?”
            “Most of the east side, and he’s negotiating for the rest. How about breakfast in the morning? Then I’ll give you a little informational tour of your hometown.”
            I hesitated. “You didn’t mention a Mrs. James.”
            “There is one, Trix, but we’re separated. She left me for her own reasons, but I haven’t filed for divorce, and I don’t plan to. I think we can work things out.”
            “Do I know her?”
            “Sure. Delores Jefferson. I’ll tell you some things tomorrow, okay? But you don’t have to worry about me putting the moves on you. Breakfast and a ride, that’s it.”

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