Sunday, March 10, 2013

Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland - Chapter Five


            I wouldn’t have recognized Delores if I hadn’t known in advance she’d be knocking on my door. She’d been a peroxide blonde in high school, but she’d let her hair go dark, and she looked much older. I remembered a curvy figure strutting in front of the band, but the woman I greeted was too thin. She’d definitely lost the spark which had once defined her.
            Hoping to hide my feelings,I hugged her. She stiffened and pulled away. “Come on in, Delores. It’s good to see you. The sandwiches just came up.”
            Her tailored suit and low heels spoke of an office job, but I watched her shed her business façade as she sprawled on the sofa and kicked off her shoes almost in one motion. “It’s been a day,” she muttered.
            I brought her a plate and a glass of tea from the tray on the credenza. “I know the feeling. Where do you work?”
            Her eyes cut away from me. “I don’t know what you’ve heard, but…”
            “I haven’t been back in town long enough to hear much.” That wasn’t strictly the truth, but I had the feeling anything else would frighten her off.
            “I’m Parker Aiken, Jr.’s private secretary.”
            I tried not to show my surprise and failed. “Well,” I said.
            “I ran into Rudy in the post office this afternoon. He said the two of you are going to meet for a drink tonight at the Twilight.”
            “He’s made a giant leap since high school,” I said, stalling for time to compose my thoughts.
            “He probably told you what Parker is trying to do. There’s no love lost between the two of them since Rudy outbid him on the Twilight building.”
            “He mentioned a few things,” I said. “I’m back here to see about the building my grandfather left me a few years ago. It’s empty now, and…”
            “And Parker Aiken wants it.”
            I nodded.
            “That’s why I’m here, and if he finds out—Parker, that is—I could lose my job, and I really need it.”
            “I’m not going to tell anyone anything except that two high school friends got together for a club sandwich.”
            She sat drinking her tea in silence.
            “I was sorry to hear that you and Rudy are separated.”
            “It’s a long story. My mother was in an accident and can’t work, and you know about my brother Danny.”
            I frowned, trying to remember. “He’s special needs, isn’t he?”
            “Down Syndrome, but he has a job sacking groceries at Landers Market, and he gets SSI. He and Mom still needed her salary to get by, so I moved home and went to work.”
            “You couldn’t stay with Rudy and work?”
            “Not for Parker Aiken, and he offered me more money than anyone else.”
            More money for what? I wondered. “I see.” I shook my head. “No, I don’t see, not really, but I hope things will work out. Rudy seems to think they will.”
            “He’s a good man. We planned to start a family, but I had a miscarriage, and then Mom got hit head-on by some kid out joy-riding. No insurance. He didn’t even show up for his hearing, and nobody’s seen him since.”
            “I’m so sorry, Delores.”
            “So am I.”
            “I’m still in the dark about why you wanted to talk to me.”
            Her mouth twisted. “Oh, that. I know Parker wants to buy your building. He already has a buyer.”
            “Let me guess—the same person or persons who want to buy up the whole downtown area.”
            She nodded. “You didn’t hear it from me.”
            “Of course not.”
            “My advice is to let him have it.”
            She shook her head. “Do you really want it?”
            “I don’t know. I don’t think so, but I’m not too happy about it being sold out from under me without anyone asking what I want.”
            “I guess you’re not, but it’s not worth fighting over.”
            “Fighting over?”
            She flushed. “Trixie, everyone liked you when we were in school because you treated everyone the same, you and Ned both. You were friendly to me when I really needed someone to care, and I’d like to return the favor. Just let Parker sell your building. He won’t offer you what it’s worth, but you can negotiate the price to a decent amount.”
            I thought about what she’d just said—and what she hadn’t said. “I’m not going to dig at you for more information, Delores. I think I’m reading between the lines.”
            “Good.” She wrapped the uneaten half of her sandwich in a napkin and stood up, fumbling with her shoes. “I’ve got to go. Danny’s boss gives him a ride home from work every afternoon, but I have to cook supper. Mom tries to get up and around, but she usually makes a mess.”
            I walked with her to the door. “I’m glad you came by, Delores. Maybe we can…”
            She shook her head. “No, it’s not a good idea for us to be seen hanging out together. Just take care of yourself.” She touched my arm before she hurried away down the corridor.
            “Thanks for coming by,” I called after her. She didn’t look back.
            Still wearing my jeans, I slipped across the street to the Twilight just before nine, wondering if Rudy knew his wife had come to see me and, if he didn’t, if I should tell him. The same waitress I’d seen the night before called me “Mrs. Blake” and showed me to the same back booth. Rudy joined me a few minutes later.
            “How was lunch with the mater?” he asked.
            I laughed. “She brought along Guy Langworth.”
            He narrowed his eyes. “The troops.”
            “Yes. It was all about selling the building, of course. When I didn’t jump on the idea, things got a little nasty.”
            He shook his head. “Another cherry lime?”
            “I’ll settle for some tea with lemon.”
            He motioned to the waitress and told her what we wanted. Then he leaned across the table. “Did you see Delores?”
            I nodded.
            “I hoped she’d come to see you. That’s why I told her you were here when we ran into each other at the post office.”
            “Thanks—I guess.”
            “I’m not going to ask what she told you, but she took a risk.”
            “I got that impression.”
            “I blew a gasket when she told me she was going to work for Parker Aiken, and we had one hellacious fight. She moved home the next day.”
            “I remember now her mother worked two jobs after Mr. Jefferson died when we were in sixth grade.”
            Rudy nodded. “Maybe it’s a good thing Delores is home with her mother and brother for now, but I want her back.”
            “You’ll make it happen, Rudy. Look what you’ve done with your life.” I waited until the waitress put down our glasses and left. “I’m curious though. Why would Parker Aiken hire your wife when he was on the outs with you over outbidding him on this building?”
            “He’s a dirty old man.” The venom in Rudy’s voice made me startle.
            “You don’t mean he…”
            “How Dee fends him off, I don’t know, but she wouldn’t give him the time of day outside the office.”
            “Maybe he hired her to get back at you.”
            “I’ve thought of that.”
            “What about his wife?”
            “She puts up with him.”
            “That’s too bad.”
            “Well, he’s worth big bucks, and their son is grown. Perry Aiken, remember him? He was a few years ahead of us.”
            “He was good-looking but pretty arrogant as I remember.”
            “He still is. He’s the assistant DA.”
            “The web becomes more tangled.”
            “Listen, Trix, about the building…if you want to hold onto it, I’ve got your back. I’d buy it from you myself if this one was free and clear, but I can’t stretch my capital right now.”
            “Thanks, but I don’t really know what I want right now. Maybe I’m just digging in my heels to get to my mother.”
            “She’s a piece of work all right. So is Guy Langworth. Pardon me for saying so, but those two were made for each other. I’m serious though. Take some time to think about what you want. Go back to Dallas. Call me for updates. I'll keep an eye on things. No problem.”
            “My assistant is taking care of the store, and she’s good. I don’t have to hurry back. In fact, I have the feeling I need to stick around and see what’s what.”
            Rudy nodded. “Just be careful. You’re going to be caught in the middle whatever you do.”
            I felt a chill that didn’t come from the air conditioning. “Mr. White said the same thing. If Parker Aiken’s on one side, who’s squeezing me from the other?”
            Rudy hesitated a full minute before he answered. “Galen Ellard. He’s convinced the election was rigged, and he’s trying to muster his troops to push back against the changes he knows are coming when the new mayor takes office.”
            “Do you think it was rigged?”
            Again he hesitated. “I don’t know." Hw shifted in the seat. "But I wouldn’t be surprised.”
Later, Rudy stood on the curb outside the Twilight and watched me cross the street to the hotel. Watching him literally watch my back left me unsettled.

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