Thursday, April 4, 2013

Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland - Chapter 22


            Rudy looked around the table. “This is how I see it, if anyone’s interested.”
            Mitch waved his hand. “You’re not going to offend me. I know what my father was. I’m sorry he ended up the way he did, but I can’t help but think it was inevitable.”
            Rudy nodded. “He put his foot in it more than once, all right. He conned money from Trixie’s mother.”
            “I think she gave it to him of her own free will,” I interrupted.
            “Maybe she was worried about getting it back,” Dee said.
            “Maybe. Go on, Rudy.”
            “He thought you’d sell the Quimby Building without question, Trixie. He didn’t deliver to Parker Aiken who then found himself unable to deliver to whoever wants all the property. He has an ex-wife in town who…”
            “Was glad to get rid of him,” Mitch said.
            Rudy chewed on his lip a minute. “And a stepdaughter who was glad to get rid of him, too.”
            Mitch sat up. “How’d you know about that?” He turned to look at me.
            I held up my hands. “Guilty, but I didn’t know it was a state secret.”
            “I guess it’s not.”
            “I told Trixie I’d never heard that before, but I did some checking around later. One of my waitresses here went to school with Lindy King, and she said Lindy was scared to death of her stepfather.” He glanced at Mitch. “I’m sorry, Mitch.”
            “No, it’s all right. Go on.”
            “Sueanne said she asked Lindy if her mother knew, and Lindy said she did.”
            “Candace didn’t get me the impression of being someone to let something like that go,” I said.
            “Well, she didn’t, did she? She got the marriage annulled.” Dee twirled her glass.
            “Maybe not soon enough. Lindy told Sueanne that he actually got to her.”
            “Damn!” Mitch hit the table.
            “Did you know any of this at the time?” Rudy asked.
            Mitch scowled. “Do you think I’d have let it go on if I’d known? Macy and were living in Little Rock, and I didn’t have much contact with my father. I met Candace and Lindy, and after the annulment, Candace just told me Dad had been hitting on Lindy. She didn’t say it went any further than that.”
            Rudy looked away. “Look, I know this is a rotten thing to have to deal with.”
            “It stinks,” Mitch said.
            “Sueanne told Lindy to report it to the police, but she said she couldn’t.  Also, Sueanne inferred Guy had threatened her or her mother.” Rudy signaled a waitress. “Another round,” he said. When the waitress had gone, he continued. “And, of course, there’s Galen Ellard, our ex-mayor who thought the election he lost to Guy might’ve been rigged, not to mention the violations found at the courthouse which might not exist.”
            Dee sipped her fresh soda. “Galen Ellard isn’t a killer.”
            “I agree,” Rudy said. “But he has a lot of friends who weren’t happy with the way the election went.” He looked over at me. “Did you meet his wife Sharon? She works with Candace at the historical society.”
            “Just Anne Aiken. Oh, and Hetty Evans—remember her from the school library?—was working there the second time I went in.”
            Dee picked up her purse from the seat beside her. “I have to go home and check on Mom and Danny. I left a casserole for Danny to stick in the oven, but I need to be sure everything’s all right.”
            Rudy stood up to let her side out of the booth. “I’ll come by later tonight,” he said, kissing her cheek. “We have a lot more to talk about.”
            “I know.”
            “I’m sorry I was rough on you this afternoon.”
            “I guess that’s what it took to make me see I had to get out.”
            They seemed to have forgotten Mitch and I were there.
            Rudy kissed her again. “I’ll see you in an hour or so.”
            Dee didn’t even have time to turn around before we all saw Chief Everton and one of the rookies advancing on us. “What now?” I muttered to Mitch.
            The chief walked right by Rudy and Dee. “Trixie Blake, you’re under arrest for the murder of Guy Langworth.”
            By the time I was left alone in a damp cell, shivering in thin jail-issue scrubs, anger began to break through the shock. I sank down on the stained mattress and hugged my knees to my chest. As I was being led away, Mitch had called after me that he’d see about my bail, but for now, I remained locked up pending the arraignment tomorrow.
            I’d tried to get Chief Everton to tell me why, after my mother said I wasn’t a suspect, he’d charged me with murder after all, but he’d remained tight-lipped. Though I’d remained stoic through the fingerprinting, strip search, showering, and actual locking   up, now I was as mad as I was scared.
            I didn’t expect to sleep, but the next thing I knew a female guard was shaking me awake. She took me down the corridor to a bathroom where she handed me a toothbrush and a comb. There was no mirror above the cracked sink, but I did my best to make myself presentable.
            Back in my cell, I drank the coffee on my tray but pushed away the stringy eggs and cold oatmeal. Soon afterwards, another woman officer handcuffed me again and walked me across the street to the courthouse. I saw Mitch, Rudy, Dee, and Danny sitting in the courtroom. Mitch smiled, and Rudy gave me a thumbs up. Dee and Danny just looked terrified.
            Perry Aiken, the assistant DA, didn’t even glance my direction as he presented the charges against me and asked for half a million dollars in bail. The judge then asked me if I was represented by counsel. Before I could answer, I heard Mitch say, “Yes, she is.”
            This time Perry reacted. “Your honor, Mitch Langworth is the son of the deceased. There’s a clear conflict of interest here.”
            “Permission to approach, your honor,” Mitch said.
            The judge nodded.
            Perry and Mitch huddled with the judge for what seemed to me an interminable amount of time but was, by the clock on the wall, only four minutes. Mitch winked as me as he went back to his seat.
            I’d only been back in my cell a few minutes when an officer, this time a man, took me into the small interrogation room I’d sat in the night Guy Langworth was murdered. Relief at seeing Mitch enter, accompanied by another older man, finally broke me down, and I buried my face in my hands and wailed.
            Mitch’s hands on my heaving shoulders calmed me only slightly. “It’s okay, Trixie. This is Len Melton, a friend of mine and a crack defense attorney. He couldn’t get here for the arraignment because of a hearing for another client.”
            Len Melton sat down and reached for my hands. “Just take a minute, Mrs. Blake. I want you to hear everything I have to say.”
            “I’m going to see about getting you bailed out,” Mitch said.
            “Where are you going to get half a million dollars on short notice?” I blubbered.
            “I only have to put up half,” he said, “and it’s a done deal. We’ll talk about it later.”
            When he’d gone, the other attorney made me look at him. “I’m going to ask you this one time—did you kill Guy Langworth?”
            “All right. Here’s what they have on you. His cell phone, which was missing, finally turned up in a dumpster near the Lloyd House. There’s a message on it from someone claiming to be you, asking him to meet you in your suite at 4:30.”
            “I left Dreamland at four to meet Mitch.”
            “But you didn’t meet him until five-thirty, and it’s only a forty-five minute drive. The time of death is fixed at between four and five. The gun that killed him, which was recovered at the scene, is registered to your mother, who reported it missing over a year ago, supposedly after you’d visited her.”
            “I didn’t visit her a year ago. The last time I was here was…” I tried to think. “Maybe two years ago, I’m not sure. Besides, I didn’t even know she had a gun.”
            “The gun had been wiped clean of prints.” He took my hands again, the way my father used to hold them when he had something to say and wanted my full attention. “I don’t think the prosecution can prove guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt, which is what the law requires, and I don’t have a reputation for losing cases.”
            “Even for people who are guilty?”
            He smiled a little. “To my knowledge, I’ve never represented a guilty person. I’ve been careful—and lucky.”
            “I can’t believe this is happening,” I said. “I didn’t like Mitch’s father, but I didn’t have any reason to kill him.”
            “And the state is on shaky ground with their motive,” he said. “You’ll be let go based on an agreement not to leave town.”
            “I don’t have any place to stay,” I protested. “The Lloyd House…”
            “That’s been taken care of,” he said. “There’s a room waiting for you with the Misses Drake.”
            “Stella and Letha? Do you know them?”
            This time he grinned like a little boy. “They’re my cousins.”

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