Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland - Chapter 21


            I stopped to stare in the door of Mother’s hospital room. She wore a peach silk negligee and expertly-applied makeup, and I couldn’t see a hair out of place. “Who brought your things?” I blurted.
            She made a coy moue. “It’s so wonderful to be able to count on friends in trying times.”
            “Of course.” I went to stand by her bed. “Dr. Thomas says he’s signed your discharge. Do you need a ride home?”
            Her eyes narrowed. “I can make arrangements if it’s too much trouble for you.”
            I counted to ten before I said, “I just thought maybe the friend who brought your stuff might be coming back. I’ll be glad to take you home, Mother.”
            “Good. We need to talk.”
            Mitch wasn’t in sight as the nurse wheeled Mother to the portico where I’d brought my car. As soon as we’d cleared the parking lot, Mother said, “I’m sure you don’t believe what Dr. Thomas told you.”
            “Why would he lie?”
            “Lab tests aren’t always reliable.”
            “You think yours was fixed?”
            “It might have been.”
            I decided there wasn’t any percentage in pursuing that topic. “Do you need anything? Groceries?”
            “No, Maribel will come tomorrow.”
            “My housekeeper.”
            “Doug Everton doesn’t believe you had anything to do with Guy’s death.”
            “He could’ve fooled me,” I snorted. “He kept me at the station for hours.”
            “He has to pursue every lead.”
            I took a deep breath. “Last night you were hysterical about what happened to Guy. Now you’re not.”
            “I’d…had too much to drink,” she murmured. “I regret making a scene.”
            She’d made a great deal more than a scene, but I decided to let it go.
            “Did you give him money?”
            I heard her sigh. “Some.”
            “A lot?”
            “More than I should have, I suppose, but I’ll get it back.”
            “Parker Aiken is holding it in escrow. Anne told me…”
            “Anne Aiken brought your things to the hospital?”
            “Why shouldn’t she have? I’ve known her all my life.”
            “Considering her sister Candace was once married to your boy…to Guy…it surprises me a little.”
            “Candace’s loss was my gain.”
            “But you’re not grieving over the man, it appears.”
            “He had his good points.”
            “Where? In the bedroom?”
            “Beatrice, that’s vulgar! He was amusing.”
            I bit my tongue to keep from saying something I’d regret later.
            “It wasn’t as if I was married to him…or even contemplating the step. He filled a need for the moment.”
            I gritted my teeth.
            “I’ve always believed fate steps in to take care of things,” she went on.
            “Dr. Thomas says you’re on medication for your heart.”
            “It’s nothing.”
            “He says cocaine and the other pills don’t mix.”
            “I told you that was a mistake.”
            “You can snort the stuff or shoot up, or, God forbid, free-base it, Mother. Either way it gets into your bloodstream. Nobody slipped it to you by mistake.” I pulled into her the circular drive in front of her house and cut the engine.
            “I wouldn’t know.” She opened the door. “You needn’t come in,” she said. “I’d counted on some support from you, but it’s obvious you’re not going to provide it. Thanks for the ride.”
            “Goodnight, Beatrice.”
            I waited until she’d let herself in the door before I drove away.
            At the corner, I stopped and dialed Mitch’s cell phone. He picked it up on the first ring. “I just took Mother home,” I said. “She didn’t want me to come in. If she’s doing cocaine…”
            “She’s a grown woman,” Mitch said. “Just like my father was supposedly an adult. Meet me at the Twilight.”
            “That’s Rudy James’ bar.”
            “I know. I’m here with him now. And Dee, his wife.”
            “I’ll be there in five minutes,” I said.
            Dee looked better than she had the night she came to my hotel room. I noticed Rudy was holding her hand on top of the table.
            “What’s up?” I asked, sliding into the booth beside Mitch.
            “Dee quit her job,” Rudy said.
            “Good for you!”
            She leaned across the table. “Parker is furious. He knows I know too much.”
            “Do you think you’re in danger?” I asked.
            “I think Parker is,” Rudy said. “He made some promises to the wrong people. Promises he can’t keep.”
            I frowned. “I don’t think I want to know. But I think you all need to know what my mother told me on the way to her house.” I related the information.
            “The money isn’t in escrow,” Dee said. “It’s in Parker’s safe. Or it was, the last time I looked. It was to pay for the Quimby Building.”
            “A cash sale?” I asked.
            She nodded.
            “How did his wife know about it? Like I said, she’s the one who told my mother she’d get the money back.”
            “She will, unless Parker takes it and head for the hills, and if I were in his shoes, I might do that very thing.” A small smile played around Dee’s lips. “He’s in over his head.”
            “With whom?” Mitch asked.
            “I don’t really know. They’re not local, but they were counting on Parker and Guy Langworth to buy up all the property in downtown Dreamland.”
            “For what?” I asked.
            “I don’t know that either. Some sort of industrial complex.”
            “A shadow company, I’ll bet,” Mitch said. “Dreamland is a good place to hide things. It’s off the beaten path, and at the risk of sounding condescending, too many of the citizens are willing to make money and not ask where it came from.”
            I shivered. “But why kill your father? He was in on the deal.”
            Rudy tossed back the last of his beer. “I don’t think Guy Langworth’s death had anything to do with any of this. I think it was a personal thing.”
            We all stared at him, wondering if he’d explain what he’d just said.

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