Stella Drake, clucking like a mother hen, met us at the door and whisked me off to a bedroom done in pink and white with a private bath. “You’ll feel better after a bath and some clean clothes,” she said, just as Mitch set my luggage inside the door. “Then come to the sitting room for a nice lunch.”
Mitch was still there when I finally appeared. “Don’t you ever work?” I asked.
He grinned. “When I have to. How are you feeling?”
“Better, I think. This is unbelievable.”
Letha rolled into the sitting room on silent wheels. “Trixie, dear! You’ve had an ordeal. Stella’s bringing lunch.”
“Please don’t feel I expect to be waited on,” I said.
Letha laughed. “Stella loves to fuss, and with you here, I’ll get a break.”
Ravenous, I ate two chicken salad sandwiches, a fruit plate, and plunged into dessert—walnut brownies with ice cream and caramel sauce—while Mitch filled in the details for my hostesses.
“You must feel free to stay as long as you need to,” Letha said to me.
“That could be a while. I’ll look into renting an apartment if I can’t get permission to go back to Dallas until…” I couldn’t say the word trial.
“You have to be indicted by the grand jury before there’s a trial,” Mitch said. “Len is counting on that not happening.”
“But the phone call and…”
Mitch shook his head. “It’s pretty flimsy stuff.”
“It was enough to get me arrested.”
“Rudy says Chief Everton was getting some heat to make an arrest,” Mitch said. “He thinks Perry Aiken pushed him to go after you.”
“What does he have against me? He was ahead of me in school. I barely knew him.”
Letha held out her glass to her sister for more iced tea. “If you ask me, he wanted a scapegoat to keep the focus off his mother and aunt.”
My mouth dropped open.
“And by the way,” Mitch went on, “nobody seems to know where Candace King is…and Lindy didn’t show up for work at the courthouse annex this morning.”
Stella leaned forward and patted my cheek. “You see—there are suspects everywhere. The real culprit will turn up.”
“I’m not sure Chief Everton could find a lost cat,” Letha snapped. “He wasn’t interested in helping us.”
“He’s changed,” I said. “He used to run a tight ship in Dreamland.”
Mitch stood up. “As much as I hate to leave three lovely ladies, I do have an appointment this afternoon.”
“Thank you for everything,” I said, on the verge of tears again.
“Don’t mention it. Len Melton will be in touch with you. Meanwhile, get some rest…and stay out of trouble.”
Before I could retort, he winked, and I laughed instead. “I’ll try.”
“We’ll take very good care of her,” Stella said. “Feel free to come by anytime, and you don’t have to call first.”
I only meant to lie down for a nap, but I slept until seven o’clock the next morning. When I slipped on a robe and started down the hall, I heard loud voices coming from the sitting room.
“She’s asleep,” Stella declared, “and I’m not waking her.”
“Then I’ll sit here until she gets up.”
“I recognized Parker Aiken’s voice and hurried into view. “What are you doing here?”
“He barged in here while we were having coffee,” Letha said.
“Then he can barge right out again,” I said. “I don’t have anything to say to him.”
Parker Aiken glared at me. “I brought the papers for sale of the Quimby Building. You’re going to sign them.”
“Pardon me?” I almost felt my eyebrows hit my hairline.
He thrust a sheaf of papers toward me. “You’re getting a fair price, and I want that building.”
“The last I heard, one doesn’t have to sell private property unless one wants to.”
“Then I’ll have it condemned, and you won’t get one red cent!” he snarled.
I thought of the courthouse. “Condemned—like the old courthouse?”
He seemed surprised I knew about that, but he went on the offensive again. “They money’s not going to do you any good if you’re doing life for murder!”
“I haven’t been convicted yet,” I countered.
He stared at me, making me wonder if he thought it was a done deal that I’d be spending the rest of my days in the pen.
“Sign the papers,” he said, “or I’ll get the order before noon.”
“Get it if you can,” I said. “I’m not signing anything, not now or later.”
We stared each other down for a full minute. I won, and he stomped out.
“I’m so sorry,” I said to the Drake sisters. “I really need to find a place where you won’t be dragged into this mess.”
Letha’s eyes widened in delight. “I haven’t had so much fun in years,” she said. “Real life still exists outside of television.”
Stella nodded. “Come into the kitchen, Trixie dear. I’m making a breakfast quiche. If all that stomping made it collapse, I’ll be quite upset.”
I went back to the bedroom for my cell phone before I joined the sisters in the kitchen. When I thought Len Melton might be in his office, I called him with the phone on speaker so my hostesses could hear, too.
“I was planning to come over there today,” he said. “Just stay put. He can’t get an order of condemnation that quick, not unless there’s a rat in the city government woodpile.”
“I should say there are a number of rats,” Letha said. “I expect we need the Pied Piper.”
Stella put another helping of quiche on my plate. “Eat, Trixie dear. You need to keep up your strength.”