The clock radio by my bed read nine-thirty when I woke the next morning. I’d waked almost every hour on the hour through the night, and my body felt leaden as I sat up and tried to get my thoughts together.
The subtle warnings from Rudy, Mr. White, and Delores bothered me more than my mother’s disapproval. Warnings had substance; Mother’s pique was old-hat. I thought I’d learned to live with her manipulative behavior, but brazenly bringing in her boyfriend whom I hadn’t even met to put pressure on me stirred up all the old feelings of resentment. She’d tried to run my life and then tossed me aside when she decided I wasn’t conducive to the life she wanted to live.
As I dressed—deliberately casual in more jeans and a slightly-dressier blue paisley silk blouse, substituting sandals for sneakers—I tried to organize my day. I was already off to a late start, but I’d grab something downstairs and then go see Parker Aiken, Jr. The name itself puzzled me. Her father had been dead since before I graduated high school, so why hadn’t he dropped the suffix on his name? It seemed a little showy to me.
Once I’d listened to what he had to say—and gotten a numerical figure for the proposed price—I’d tell him I’d be back in touch. And maybe I would. An empty building would invite transients and vandals or just deteriorate from the elements, and I’d have to pay taxes on it every year. I felt enough loyalty to my hometown to want it to stay alive, and maybe turning a sparsely-populated downtown into an industrial complex might be the answer. Then again, maybe it would do more harm than good.
I drank a quick cup of coffee with a greasy doughnut in the empty hotel café. As I was leaving, Guy Langworth materialized from the recesses of a leather chair in the lobby. “Hello there. I was hoping to see you this morning.”
I put my back against the registration desk. “What about?”
He gestured toward a grouping of chairs. “Why don’t we sit down?”
“I’m on my way out,” I said.
I didn’t like the way his eyes narrowed as they swept over me.
“You can say whatever’s on your mind right here,” I said, regretting the defiance that crept into my voice.
“I’d just like to help you make a decision about the Quimby Building.”
“That’s what I’m trying to do.”
“It won’t do anyone any good sitting empty, and I doubt you’ll be overrun with people wanting to open a business there.”
“Probably not,” I said.
“So the thing to do is make some money by selling it, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Have you talked to Parker Aiken?”
Before I could censor my tongue I’d replied, “I was going to do that this morning.”
“Good. I’ll be glad to drive you.” He reached for my arm, but I shrugged it off. Even I was horrified by what I said next.
“You may put your hands all over my mother, but don’t touch me.”
He sucked in his breath and glanced around to see who had heard me. The desk clerk glanced up, then away, and went on with whatever he was doing. A passing housekeeper gave us a wide berth.
“That was not only unnecessary but also rude,” he said, not stepping away from me.
The edge of the desk bit into my back. I gritted my teeth and moved to where I could walk around the man. Fortunately, the elevator opened just as I reached it, and I zipped inside and hit the button. As the door slid shut, I glimpsed Mr. Guy Langworth still standing where I’d left him, and the expression on his face told me I’d made an enemy.
Delores answered the phone when I called Parker Aiken’s office from my room. “I thought I’d come by if he’s in,” I said.
“He is. Do you want me to tell him you’re on your way?”
“Sure, go ahead.”
Her voice dropped to a whisper. “It’s for the best.”
“We’ll see,” I said. “I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
Parker Aiken had changed like everyone else. His body was heavier, his hair thinner, and his greeting less sincere than I remembered when he was a city councilman and spoke to our senior government class about the local political process. He ushered me into his office and closed the door. “I was hoping you’d come by,” he said, sitting down behind a massive desk too bulky for the small space.
“I understand you’re interested in buying my grandfather’s building,” I said.
“I have a buyer who’s interested.”
“The same person who wants to acquire the rest of downtown?”
Something flickered in his eyes. “As a matter of fact, it is. The downtown’s dying, Beatrice. The courthouse is just this side of being condemned, and it’s too expensive to fix the code violations. So it will come down eventually, and we’ll rebuild out near the new mall. Have you seen that yet?”
I shook my head.
“Everything’s moving out that direction. With the highway running right into Main Street, the downtown area is prime property for industrial development.”
That made sense, but I wasn’t going to admit it. “Will the Lloyd House be torn down? The Quimby Building?”
He chewed his bottom lip for a few seconds before he answered. “I can’t tell you that for sure. The Lloyd House is newer and could be renovated for office space. Your grandfather’s building…well, that’s another story. I understand you have a sentimental attachment to it, but time doesn’t stand still, unfortunately. Things change.” He appeared to be tryingto gauge the effect of his words.
“That’s true enough,” I said, thinking I’d set an agreeable tone before we got down to business. “What is your buyer offering?”
Parker Aiken’s eyebrows went up. Apparently he hadn’t expected me to go to the heart of the matter so quickly. “You’d want to get the building appraised, of course.”
I patted the briefcase-sized purse in my lap. “Mr. White gave me the appraisal yesterday.”
That piece of information didn’t seem to go over well. “Who did the appraisal?”
“Someone in Little Rock.”
“Do you mind if I ask what value he set on the building?”
“Not at all. Two hundred twenty-five thousand.”
The realtor’s face flushed. “That’s insane!”
“The buyer would want a second appraisal.”
“Of course.” I hoped I wasn’t smiling.
Parker rubbed his liver-spotted hands together. “So I can assume you’d be interested in selling if we can come to a fair price based on two appraisals?”
“I’d be interested in discussing it further,” I said, rising from my chair. “I’m staying at the Lloyd House.” I fumbled in the outside pocket of my purse for my business card case. “My cell phone number is on this.”
He rose but didn’t offer his hand. “All right. I’ll be in touch.”
Delores gave me a quick questioning glance as I left, but I just winked at her. Maybe her curiosity would get the best of her, and she’d give me another call or come by tonight. Maybe I could hint around again about how she and Rudy ought to get back together.
My cell phone rang as I unlocked my car. “Beatrice.”
“Good morning, Mother.”
“I don’t appreciate your attitude. Your behavior is appalling.”
“I don’t appreciate your boyfriend trying to get into my business. Listen, Mother, I’ve been on my own for three years, and I’m nobody’s fool. If I decide to sell the Quimby Building, I’ll do it, and if I decide not to, I won’t.”
“Not selling would be crazy.”
“Maybe so, but it’s my decision. Was there anything else?”
She hung up on me.