Thursday, March 14, 2013

Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland - Chapter 8


            By the time Mitch Langworth finished his late lunch, I knew a lot about him.  I especially recognized his still-raw grief over the death of his wife because mine was only beginning to heal.
“I’m driving back to Little Rock this afternoon,” he said as we strolled toward the main entry to the mall. “Are you staying with your mother?”
            “I’d intended to, but I’m at the Lloyd House. Three’s a crowd.”
            He frowned. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that they’re shacking up.”
            “Mother said she didn’t intend to marry him.”
            “She’d be number four.”
            Mitch nodded. “My mother—God rest her—put up with him until I was eleven. She died of breast cancer. Then he married some tart he’d been running around with while Mom was dying, and when she threw him over, he married Candace King. She caught onto his shenanigans pretty quick and got an annulment. But she hung around Dreamland, she and her daughter by her first marriage.”
            “How old is the daughter?”
            “Early twenties. We’re not really family, but I keep up with her. She works for the county. Issues permits for stuff. You’ll run into Lindy eventually if you stay around here. Candace doesn’t have to work. She’s big into the historical society.”
            “So she’d be one of those wanting to preserve downtown Dreamland?”
            “I guess so.”
            “It was a nice place to grow up, but it makes me sad to see how it’s changed.”
            “Well, all towns change, but Dad and his cronies are hell-bent on totally restructuring this one.”
            “Why is he interested in Dreamland? He’s an outsider.”
            “He did some oil development in Texas, but he ended up in Little Rock working as a draftsman for a construction company. He was a little fish in a big pond, but when he married Candace and moved to Dreamland about five years ago, he smelled opportunity.”
            I fished my car keys from my purse. “I hope you won’t take offense at what I’m going to ask you, but even if you do, we probably won’t run into each other again, so…” I took a deep breath. “Is your father honest?”
            He blew out his breath. “He’s crooked as a dog’s hind leg, which is why I’m not involving myself in any of his schemes. I worked hard for my law license, and I have a reputation to protect.”
            “That’s pretty blunt.”
            “You asked. Oh, he stays just this side of breaking the law—any law anybody’s familiar with, that is. But if there’s a buck to be made…if he can get any attention for himself…” He shrugged.
            “How did you turn out so different?”
            “I honestly don’t know. My mother was a good person, and she kept me on the straight and narrow as long as she lived. By then maybe I was old enough to see my father for what he was…is.”
            I held out my hand. “I’ve enjoyed meeting you, Mitch.”
            He nodded. “I’ve enjoyed meeting you, Trixie Collier Blake. Hang in there.” Then he turned and walked away.
I drove to the Quimby Building and used my key on the back door. Standing in the middle of the first floor, my eyes on the abandoned antique showcases, I could visualize jewelry and other small pieces displayed in them. Then I went upstairs and considered how the empty space could be turned into two loft apartments.  Back in the car, I found Rudy’s business card and punched in the numbers for his cell phone.
“How do I get in touch with the Drake sisters?”
“Trixie? What are you…why do you want to get in touch with them?”
“Just tell me how to do it.”
“Wait a minute. I’ll look up their telephone number for you. They live over on Sumter Street, like the second block…here it is, number 1501, and here’s their telephone number. Are you going to call them?”
“Maybe I’ll just drop in on them.”
“I don’t know. Maybe I’m curious about the time they spent in my grandfather’s building.”
“They ran a dress shop, for Pete’s sake.”
“But why did they close it?”
“Health reasons I heard.”
“How old are they?”
“I don’t know, Trix. You go see them and figure it out.”
“I met Mitch Langworth at the mall today.”
“Guy’s son?”
“Do you know him?”
“No, but I knew Guy had one.”
“He told me his father had already had three wives.”
“Okay, thanks for the info. I’m going now.”
“Call me tonight. Or better still, come over to the Twilight. I should be there from eight o’clock until closing.”
“Don’t you ever sleep?”
“Not much since Dee left.”
“I’m so sorry, Rudy. I’ll come over tonight.”
Delores didn’t know what she’d thrown over, I reflected as I headed for Sumter Street. Or maybe she did. Her mother and her brother might need her right now, but did she have to leave her husband to take care of them? And to work for Parker Aiken of all people? Surely she wasn’t getting extra pay for…no, Rudy said she wasn’t like that, and the school friend I remembered wouldn’t have considered it. But it was a darn shame to see two nice people split up unnecessarily.
            The woman who opened the door of the house built in a fifties neighborhood didn’t look old. Past middle age maybe but not old. “Miss Drake?” I asked politely.
            “I’m Stella Drake.”
            “I’m Trixie Collier Blake. You rented space in my grandfather’s building.”
            She paled. “Is something wrong?”
            “No, no, I just wanted to meet you. I thought you might tell me if there were any problems with the building I should know about.”
            “Who is it, Stella?” The voice calling from somewhere deep within the house didn’t sound old either.
            Stella Drake seemed to be taking my measure. “Come in,” she said, stepping back.
She led me down an uncarpeted hall to a paneled living area. A woman in a wheelchair sat in the afternoon sunlight streaming through a bay window. “This is my sister Letha. Letha, this is Mrs. Blake, the woman who owns the building where we had our shop.”
            Letha looked at me with the same trepidation as her sister. “Is there something wrong?”
            “Absolutely nothing, Miss Drake. When Mr. White notified me the building was empty, I came from Dallas to make a decision about what to do with it. I just wanted to meet you and your sister, that’s all.”
            The two sisters exchanged glances. “Please sit down, Mrs. Collier,” Letha said. “Stella, I’m ready for my afternoon cola.”
            “Trixie,” I said quickly. “Just Trixie.”
            Stella brought a tray with three bottled sodas and three glasses of ice. I recognized the stemmed glasses as American Fostoria and commented on them.
            “We have quite a bit,” Stella said. “It belonged to our mother.”
            “It’s worth a lot of money these days,” I said. “Some of the serving pieces are very expensive.” When the women looked at each other again, I added, “I have an antique shop in Dallas, so I know about things like that.”
            We sipped our drinks in polite silence for a long minute. Then I tried again. “I just wondered if you had any problems with the building when you were there.”
            “Not unless you want to call being haunted a problem,” Stella snapped.

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