My mother, wearing a tailored khaki pantsuit accented with a necklace of carved wooden beads, gazed with distaste at my jeans and pullover. “The Garden Spot is rather upscale,” she said.
“Would you like for me to change?”
She glanced at her watch. “No, there’s not time. I made a reservation.”
I slid into her beige convertible. “Sorry about that.”
“What have you been up to this morning?”
“I went to see the Quimby Building, and then I spent about an hour with Mr. White. Did you know Grandfather’s roll-top desk is still there?”
“Is it? How did you get into the building, Bea?”
“Through the back door.”
“You have a key?”
I thought of the one Mr. White had given me. “Yes.” What did it matter whether or not I’d used it to get in?
She seemed to find that fact interesting. “I see. You’re welcome to the desk, of course.”
“I thought he took it with him since he worked at home the last few years.”
“It was a monstrosity. Mamma didn’t want it cluttering up the place.”
“Oh. Well, I always liked it. I’ll take it.”
“What did Lawrence White tell you?”
“What should he have told me?” I countered.
She stopped at a light and checked her beeping cell phone. “Nothing, I suppose. I thought maybe you discussed the sale of the building.”
“No, we didn’t.”
Half a block later, Mother turned into the lot fronting a gazebo-shaped structure surrounded with greenery. “The food here is quite good,” she commented.
I was about to reply when I caught sight of the man I now recognized as Guy Langworth and knew instinctively he was waiting for us. “Mother, I thought we were going to have lunch. Us, as in you and me.”
“I asked Guy to join us. It’s time you met him.”
“I didn’t know anything about him until last night. Are you getting married?”
“Married? Good heavens, no, but we’re…”
“Never mind,” I interrupted. “I don’t think I want to know.”
Introductions were stilted. I thought Guy’s handshake was limp and his smile pasted on. Mother chattered non-stop as she scanned the menu. Guy nursed a glass of white wine. When the waitress had gone with our orders, Mother said, “Bea has been to see the building this morning.”
From the look on Guy’s face, he knew exactly which building she was talking about.
“A piece of history,” he observed in a neutral voice.
“A piece of history,” he observed in a neutral voice.
“A piece of my childhood,” I replied.
“That’s ridiculous, Bea. You weren’t there a handful of times.”
“I used to stop by every afternoon after school,” I said. “Granddad always kept candy for me in his top drawer.”
Mother seemed surprised. “Oh.”
Guy took another sip of wine.
“Guy will be taking office as mayor of Dreamland in a few weeks,” Mother said. “He’s quite excited about the possibilities for moving the town forward. Galen Ellard just let things slide, and as a result we…”
I interrupted again. “That’s nice.”
Our food arrived quickly, and we ate in almost total silence. Over coffee and dessert, Mother brought up the Quimby Building again. “You should see Parker Aiken, Jr. this afternoon, Bea. As I told you, he has a buyer for the building, and you could get everything taken care of before you go back to Dallas.”
“Seeing as it’s my building, I have to ask who put it on the market?”
“I don’t like your tone, Bea.” For as long as I could remember, Mother had always operated from a tactical offensive position.
“I think it was assumed you would want to turn it, especially after it came empty,” Guy Langworth said, his tone intended to smooth the waters. “And Parker has brokered quite a few sales in the downtown area.”
I didn’t look at the man. Lawrence White had confirmed everything Rudy had told me about Parker Aiken’s dealings, and he’d left me with what could only be described as a warning. “Be careful, Beatrice. You’ll find yourself caught in the middle no matter what you do.”
“I really don’t know what I’m going to do with the building,” I said. “I haven’t had time to think about it.”
“What is there to think about?” Mother’s impatience was unmistakable. “What do you want with an old building in Arkansas when you live and work in Dallas?”
“I don’t know, Mother. When I figure it out, I’ll let you know.”
She tossed her napkin onto the table. “You do that.”
Goodbyes outside the restaurant were no more pleasant than the earlier introductions. Mother’s last words to Guy were, “I’ll call you,” before she backed out and headed for the hotel.
“What does Mr. Langworth do?” I asked, breaking the uncomfortable silence after two blocks.
“He’s an oil developer.”
“There’s no oil around here.”
“In Texas and Oklahoma.”
“Oh. Well, what’s he doing in Dreamland, Arkansas?”
“He has an office in Little Rock.” Mother’s hands gripped the steering wheel so tightly her knuckles were white, a sure sign she was angry.
“But he wanted to be mayor of a little town like this?”
“It doesn’t always have to be a little town,” Mother said snappishly.
“I suppose not.”
She didn’t cut the engine when she angled the car into a parking space in front of the Lloyd House. “I’d advise you to talk to Parker,” she said without looking at me. “I don’t know why you’d even hesitate to get out from under that building as quickly as you can, but maybe Parker can help you make up your mind.”
“I’ll do that, Mother.” I stepped out of the car but leaned back in so I could see her. “Thanks for lunch.”
When she didn’t look at me or reply, I closed the door and stood on the curb watching her drive away.
I was trying to decide if I was hungry enough to go downstairs for supper when the house phone rang. “Trixie? Trixie Baker?” a woman’s voice said.
“Trixie Collier,” I said. “Who’s this?”
“Delores Jefferson. Do you remember me?”
“Of course, I do. You were the best majorette in the whole band.”
“I…thank you. The reason I called…” Her voice trailed off.
I waited, and when she didn’t go on, I said, “Does this have anything to do with your husband showing me the town this morning?”
“Oh, no, I mean…” She sounded a little breathless. “Listen, could we talk? We could meet somewhere, or…”
“Why don’t you come up to my room? I was thinking of going downstairs for something to eat, but maybe I could order up a couple of sandwiches.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“I’d like to visit with you, Delores. We didn’t hang out together that much in high school, but we’re classmates, after all.”
“Well…if you’re sure.”
“I’m sure. Is a club sandwich good for you?”
“Anything. I’m still at work, but I’ll be there in about half an hour.”
I hung up, sure that what she had to say wasn’t going to be anything good. Rudy said she’d left him and not the other way around, so she shouldn’t be worried about him seeing anyone else and certainly not me. He’d provided a lot of entertainment in high school with his fairly harmless rebel ways, and now he’d turned into a personable business man, someone to be trusted. But Rudy James didn’t ring any romance bells with me, and he’d said flat out that he wanted to mend his broken marriage.
So why did Delores seem so anxious to talk to me—and about what?