“You can get a better feel for things if we walk,” Rudy said as we left the hotel the next morning after breakfast. “Let’s start at the end of Main with the Quimby Building and work our way around the square.”
“Suits me,” I said, shouldering my leather purse, a knock-off of a name designer. I had an aversion to paying designer prices even if I liked the product. My jeans were the real thing though, purchased during a pity-party soon after Ned’s death. They’d last forever.
Few cars moved down Main Street, once the heart of Dreamland, and fewer were parked along the curb. “The flagship stores moved out to the mall,” Rudy said.
“Dreamland has a mall?”
“Nothing like you have in Dallas. It’s out past the high school. We’ll take the car to see it later if you want to.”
“So what’s left besides the Lloyd House and the Twilight Bar?”
“Well, there’s Kemp’s Computer Repair,” Rudy said, gesturing toward the white stucco building where the variety store had been. “Ken opened up about five years ago. He does a good business. His wife Sara teaches at the elementary.”
“Where did the county offices go when they left the courthouse?”
“Over there in the old Central Bank Building. They tore down Carter’s Hardware to make an employee parking lot.”
“Andy Carter closed up?”
“He died, and his wife couldn’t get a buyer for the store, so she sold off the inventory, and the county bought the building and razed it.” Rudy stopped in front of the two-story brick building I remembered from my earliest childhood. The letters painted on the windows said Drake’s Apparel instead of Quimby Lloyd Enterprises.
I put my nose against the glass and peered at the darkened interior.
“Your key will probably work on the front door,” Rudy said.
“Key?” I felt my face grow hot. “I don’t have a key, Rudy.”
“Mr. White, I guess. My grandfather’s lawyer. He’s been my contact about everything.”
Rudy seemed to be studying me.
“I feel like an idiot. I didn’t even think about a key.”
“Never mind.” He took my arm. “I can probably get us inside.” He hurried me around the corner and down a short alley that dead-ended at a chipped concrete wall. Pulling out his wallet, he extracted a credit card and slipped it neatly inside the door near the knob. Then he jiggled and doorknob, and the door opened. “I’m a man of many talents,” he said, standing aside to let me go in first.
“Breaking and entering?”
“You’ll want to put a deadbolt on that door if you do anything with this building. I told the Drake sisters that more than once, but they didn’t seem too worried about anyone coming in after hours.” He touched a light switch, and the stuffy back room lit up. “I also told them to turn off the electricity when they vacated.”
“They don’t sound too reliable. Maybe it’s a good thing they gave up their lease.”
Rudy shrugged and followed me into the main part of the first floor where display cases and dress racks still took up space on the dusty mauve carpet.
“Why is all this stuff still here?”
“Supposedly someone from Little Rock was going to pick it up, but I guess not. I asked them if they wanted to keep some minimal insurance in place until everything was out, but they said no.”
I ran my fingers across the wooden top of a glass case. “This is an antique,” I said. “I have some in my shop that I paid a pretty price for. All the department stores got rid of these things years ago, and they’re hard to find now.”
I walked around the silent room. It had seemed larger to me as a child. My grandfather’s roll-top desk had occupied one corner, and his secretary Paulette March had kept things organized from her space in the opposite one. “Do you remember Paulette March?” I asked.
“I don’t think so.”
“She was Granddad’s secretary for years until she died. That’s when he closed down the office and worked from home until he died a few years later. I heard my grandmother talking to my mother once when they didn’t know I was around. Gran said Granddad and Paulette had been carrying on, as she put it, for years.”
Rudy chuckled. “A grand affair, huh?”
“I suppose.” I walked to the front door and glanced across the street at a seedy-looking furniture rental store which didn’t seem to be open yet. “How did the dress store make it in this location? I mean, I’m sure the mall has more to offer.”
“They carried some pretty pricey stuff, but their money came mostly from the juniors’ line they offered. The high school crowd loved this place.”
“So I heard. Want to go upstairs?”
“I was never up there.”
“We passed the stairs as we came out of the back room. I’ll go first and make sure it’s safe.” Rudy found another light switch on the wall beside the stairs and flicked it. “Right behind me,” he said.
The second floor was nothing but one huge, unfinished space, but the morning sun streamed through a bank of windows on the front, catching the dust motes we stirred up as they hung in the still air. “This would make a great loft apartment,” I said. “I have one over my store in downtown Dallas.”
“It has possibilities, I guess,” Rudy said, “but it would take some money. I spent more than I thought I would remodeling the Twilight. Of course, I’m making it back now.”
Then I caught sight of Granddad’s old roll-top abandoned under one of the high windows on the side. “Oh, my stars, look at that!” I hurried over to all but embrace the solid piece.
“I always assumed he took it home and used it there, but now I can’t quite remember.”
My eyes filled up. “To tell you the truth, I never paid any attention to anything when I’d come home to visit after Ned and I married. We just paid a quick duty visit to everyone and left. And then we were in Spain for a year and in Germany for two more, and…” I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand. “There just wasn’t anything here for either one of us anymore. The aunt and uncle who raised him moved away after he graduated and went off to the Air Force Academy, and my parents weren’t together anymore.”
“I knew they divorced,” Rudy said, handing me a clean handkerchief.
“Dad remarried pretty quick. He and Susan have an eight-year-old and a six-year-old.”
“Where do they live?”
“In Mountain View. Susan works at the arts center, and Dad opened a hunting and fishing supply store sort of like the one he had here. They love it there.”
“So you see them often?”
“Not as often as I should, and Corey and Cassie are growing up so fast. I like Susan though. She’s been good for Dad. Mother never…” I blotted my eyes. “Well, that’s old history.”
“Ready to go?”
“Yes. Maybe I should let Mr. White know I’m here and get that key.”
“We’ll pick up my car at the hotel, and I’ll drive you over.”
We’d almost reached the Lloyd House when my cell phone rang. “Beatrice, it’s Mother. Where can I meet you for lunch?”
“I don’t know the town now. Where do you suggest?”
“The Garden Spot. I’ll pick you up. Eleven-thirty? We can beat the rush.”
“That’s fine, Mother. I’ll wait out front for you.”
“Wonderful. Ciao.” She hung up.
I shook my head. “My mother.”
“I gathered as much.”
“I thought I was going to stay with her, but it seems she had other plans. Something came up, as she put it.”
Rudy nodded. “Guy Langworth.”
“Our mayor-elect. He beat out Galen Ellard almost two to one in the local election two weeks ago.”
“A Robert Mitchum type?”
Rudy grinned. “Yeah, that’s him.”
“He was getting off the elevator at Mother’s condo as I left. Who is he?”
“An outsider. Came here about five or six years ago. He says he’s an oil developer.”
“Oil around Dreamland?”
“No, Texas somewhere.” Rudy unlocked his white Chrysler and opened the door for me.
“I’ve got to hash things out with Mother,” I said. “But I’m glad you told me about Parker Aiken, Jr. And I want to hear about you and Delores.”
“I’ve got to drive to Little Rock this afternoon, but come over to the Twilight around nine tonight, and we’ll talk more.”
“Let me give you my cell phone number, and I’ll run over to my office and check in while you’re with Mr. White. You can call me to pick you up and take you back to the hotel.”
“I should’ve just brought my car.”
“No problem. I’m not far from here.” He pulled to the curb in front of the McDonough Building and handed me a business card. “Good luck.” He reached across me to open the door.
He gave me a thumbs up as I got out.