Friday, April 12, 2013

Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland - Chapter 29


            Dee answered the phone at her mother’s house. “Nothing,” she said. “Rudy went back to the station and tried to get Chief Everton to list Danny as a missing person, but he said he had bigger fish to fry than a run-away. Rudy’s talking to Sheriff Unger right now, but I don’t know what good it’s going to do.”
            “Oh, Dee, I wish there was something I could do! I’m worried about Danny, too.”
I wondered if Rudy had told her about finding Anne Aiken’s body, but I decided not to mention it. The fewer people who knew the whole story about last night, the better.
            “Our minister’s been here. That helped Mom, and I guess it helped me a little, but I’m so mad, Trixie! Danny’s been kidnapped, and the police chief doesn’t even care!”
            “I don’t know what’s wrong with him,” I said. “You know he didn’t used to be this way.”
            “I remember.”
            “Mitch is coming after lunch, and we’re going to go over to the Quimby Building.”
            “What for?”
            “I’m not sure. Candace King hinted around about some reason why my grandfather left me that building—other than the obvious. I guess I’m going sleuthing.”
            “Be careful, Trixie, both of you. We don’t need any more trouble around here.”
            “We’ll come by later,” I said. “See if you can get some rest.”
            Mitch called at one and told me he’d be late. “It seems my secretary scheduled a meeting for this afternoon and neglected to tell me. But I’ll get there, I promise. Just sit tight.”
            I agreed, but as soon as I’d hung up, I headed for my car and drove to a hardware store where I bought a tape measure. Then I drove to the Quimby Building. Upstairs, I measured the empty space where the candy drawer should have been. It was long and narrow and could be easily shoved in between…between what? I went back downstairs and stood looking around.
            The walls of the main room had been repainted without disturbing the old plaster. I examined the four corners without noticing anything out of place. Then I headed for one of the storerooms where Grandfather had kept office supplies. The shelves were empty now, of course, but something seemed out of place. What else had been in here?
            I prowled the room I’d been in only a few times. Paulette March, Grandfather’s long-time secretary and apparently also his mistress, had frowned on my visits and discouraged Grandfather sending me into the storeroom on made-up errands. But I’d been in here enough to remember the neatly-stacked reams of paper, boxes of file folders, and bins of smaller items like pencils and staples.
            There had been a pencil sharpener screwed to the end of one shelf.  I’d used it a time or two, but it wasn’t there now. As I studied the empty holes in the wood, I tried to focus. Shelves, the pencil sharpener, a stepladder leaning against the wall near the door…but all the shelves could be reached just standing on the floor…so why a stepladder?
            I lifted my eyes to the pressed tin ceiling, and then I remembered: one afternoon school had dismissed early, and when I came through the front door, Mrs. March told me my grandfather was busy and to sit down and wait. I’d ignored her and headed for the storeroom instead, and he was there, standing on the ladder, putting one of the tin panels back into place. He’d smiled down at me and said to go find my candy and that he’d be along.
            I hadn’t asked my grandfather what he was doing, but now I knew. He’d been putting something into a safe hidden in the ceiling…and I had a feeling that the safe was still there. But which panel was it? And where was I going to find something to stand on?
            Trying to decide on my next move, I walked the perimeter of the room, keeping my eyes up. And there it was: the brass pull from the missing drawer fastened somehow to the fifth panel from the back corner of the ceiling.
            “Trixie, what are you doing here?”
            I whirled around at the sound of an all-too-familiar voice. “I could ask you the same thing.”
            Mitch frowned. “I told you I was coming over. I ditched the meeting. It wasn’t important anyway.”
            “How did you get in? I locked the door.”
            His frown deepened. “It wasn’t locked.”
            “I locked it,” I repeated. “And why are you here? You made me promise to wait for you.”
            “I knew you wouldn’t. When I drove by the Drake sisters’ house and didn’t see your car, I knew where you’d be.”
            “I’m leaving,” I said, edging my way toward the door, even though he was blocking it.”
            He shrugged. “Okay. You don’t want to go treasure-hunting?”
            “No, there’s nothing here.”
            “Okay.” He surprised me by moving aside, and I practically ran through the door.
“What’s wrong with you?” he called after me. “You act like you’ve seen a ghost!”
            I grabbed for the knob on the back door and pulled, but it didn’t budge. “You said the door was unlocked!”
            “It was.” He moved closer to me, and I contemplated a dash past him into the front. Was it better to die crashing through the plate glass window onto the street or stay here and wait for him to kill me?
            The sound of footsteps on the stairs interrupted my thoughts, and terror knotted my stomach. He hadn’t come alone. I had no chance whatsoever. I couldn’t see around him, but I heard a woman’s voice. “For heaven’s sake, Mitch, you’re scaring her to death.” Candace King stepped into view.
            I closed my eyes and waited to die.
            “Trixie, open your eyes,” Candace said. “It’s all right.”
            I squinted at her and tried to speak, but my mouth felt full of cotton. Finally I managed to say, “You set me up again, didn’t you?”
            She shook her head. “Mitch should’ve told you Lindy and I were staying with him.”
            My eyes flew open wide. “He…you…you lied to me!” I spat in Mitch’s direction.
            He seemed at a loss for words. I wanted to claw his face.
            Candace shook her head. “After I called you, I finally got hold of Mitch. Lindy and I needed somewhere to hole up, and he invited us to his house.”
            “Hole up? Why? Did you kill his father? Did you kill your own sister?”
            The woman’s face creased with pain. “Anne and I were step-sisters. We didn’t even grow up together. But we got along, and I didn’t kill her.”
            “What about Danny? Do you have him holed up somewhere, too?”
            She sighed. “I wish I did. I have no idea where he is.”
            Suddenly my knees gave way, and I slid down the wall to the floor. Mitch grabbed for me, but I pushed him away. “Don’t touch me!”
            He fell back as if I’d landed a punishing blow.
            “Oh, stop it, both of you,” Candace said. “Look, Trixie, here’s the way things are. I told Mitch I’d slip in here after you both arrived, but you got here first. I’m the one who jimmied the lock on the door and left it open for Mitch. I didn’t want to do anything until he got here.”
            “What are you going to do?”
            “Tell you what I know, and try to figure out where to go from here.”
            “Why don’t you tell the police?”
            “Tell Doug Everton? I think not.”
            “Because he’s penned into a corner,” Mitch said, keeping his distance. “He’s turned a blind eye to too much that’s gone on here in the last year, and now it’s all blown up in his face. He knew the courthouse inspection was a farce. He knew someone was trying to run the Drake sisters out of this building. He knew my father stole the mayoral election.”
            “How do you know all this?” I asked, wanting to believe him.
            “Candace has been collecting evidence on the dirty dealings in this town for a long time. She had the perfect cover—director of the new historical society. She could snoop around, and nobody suspected anything.”
            Candace nodded. “That’s right. And my daughter Lindy passed information from the office she worked in and anywhere else she could  find it.”
            “What were you going to do with what you found out?”
            “Take it to the attorney general’s office,” she said. “There were enough violations to put away a lot of people in this town. But I needed more.”
            “And you used me by giving me all that stuff on my grandfather’s connection to Al Capone.”
            “That’s all it was, but I hoped someone would think it was something else and take the bait. And they did.”
            “But nobody knew I had it,” I said.
            She took a deep breath. “I knew someone was watching me, and I had to find out who.”
            “Did you?”
            “Yes. My step-sister, Anne Aiken.”
            “But you said she didn’t know anything.”
            “Not about the Al Capone thing. But she’d figured out what I was doing.”
            “I don’t understand why you’re telling me all this. What am I supposed to do about it? Besides be a target again?”
            “Let me finish,” Candace went on. “Don’t you want to get up off that dirty floor?”
            I shook my head. “Just finish.”
            “I overheard her making a phone call to Guy Langworth—or leaving a message for him. She pretended to be you. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I went to the Lloyd House to get you out of there.”
            “I’d already gone.”
            “Right. I didn’t know which room you were in, of course, but the desk clerk told me he’d seen you leave half an hour earlier. On my way out, I bumped into Danny. I don’t know why he thought I was your mother.”
            I thought for a moment. “Come to think of it, I’m not sure he even knows my mother. I wonder why…”
            “Well, he doesn’t know me either, but it could be he saw us talking outside the historical society office and made an assumption. Anyway, I knew something bad was going to happen, probably to Guy, and I knew you were going to be framed for it. I went back to the office and called Lindy, and we decided to spend the night at a little cabin I own near the lake. The next morning, when I found out Guy was dead, I called you with every intention of telling you what I knew…and then I backed down.”
            “I’m not sure. I didn’t want to muddy the waters until…” She shook her head. “Then, as I told you, I called Mitch, and we agreed Lindy and I needed to make ourselves scarce until the situation resolved itself.”
            “Until I got arrested!” I scrambled to my feet. “That’s cold!”
            “I didn’t think that would happen, and neither did Mitch. I knew the cell phone was damning evidence, but since you weren’t charged that night, I thought—hoped anyway— it was lost and wouldn’t turn up.”
            “If Danny saw Parker Aiken throw it in the dumpster, does that mean Parker murdered Guy Langworth?”
            “Or he thought Anne did,” Mitch said, breaking his silence.
            “But someone killed Anne, too,” I said.
            “Parker and Anne were estranged,” Candace said. “That much was true. But their finances were very much married to each other. Parker might’ve put Anne up to calling Guy and pretending to be you. I got the idea their so-called business relationship was turning sour even before you came back and refused to sell them this building.”
            “Right now, I don’t care about any of that,” I said. “I’m scared to death for Danny Jefferson. Parker Aiken probably saw him in that alley.”
            A voice came from the main room of the building. “He didn’t, but I did.” A figure stepped out of the shadows. We all saw the gun before we saw the face.

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