Chief Doug Everton motioned the three of us into a corner. He took his handcuffs from the back of his belt and tossed them in Mitch’s direction. “Cuff the two women together.”
Mitch let the cuffs fall to the floor. “If you’re making an arrest, you do it.”
“We can do this the easy way or the hard way.”
“What is the ‘this way’ we’re talking about?” Candace asked. At the same time, she maneuvered me behind her.
“I knew it was just a matter of time before you figured things out,” Doug Everton said to her.
“What are you going to do with us?” I blurted as my knees began to shake again.
“You should’ve taken your money and gone back to Dallas,” he said. “You’d have been home free.”
“How are you going to explain three more bodies? Or three more missing persons?” Mitch asked.
“I’m the police chief. I can explain anything I have to.”
Watching his face, I thought Mitch’s words bothered him some.
“Where’s Danny?” I asked.
“Cooling his heels. He’s all right.”
“He’s in jail?” I gasped.
“In a way. The old jail on the square.” He glanced at Candace. “The one you wanted to turn into a historical site and give tours.”
“That place hasn’t been used in years, since before I was born,” I said to no one in particular. “Danny can’t last in there!”
“He shouldn’t have gone exploring and gotten himself locked in,” the chief said, smirking.
“That’s what you’re going to tell people?” Mitch asked.
The man shrugged. “It’s as good a story as any. I have a story, he has a story. I guess he didn’t tell you all of his.”
“What do you mean?”
“He saw me coming out the back door of the hotel ahead of Parker Aiken. At least, I think he did, but I couldn’t take any chances.”
“You can’t tell people we got ourselves locked in here,” Candace said.
He smiled a little. “Just Trixie. She couldn’t get out when the fire started.”
The breath went out of me. Was he really going to burn the building down over my head?
Mitch used words I hadn’t heard in a few years. “That’s not going to help,” Candace murmured. “So what about us, Mitch and me?”
“It’s taken care of. Convenient finding all of you here together, though. Saves me some steps.”
“Why did you kill my father?” Mitch asked.
“Me? I didn’t kill him. Trixie did.”
“You know I didn’t!” I stepped out from behind Candace, but she shoved me back. “I didn’t kill anybody!”
“Parker Aiken killed him, if you must know,” the police chief said. “It had been coming for a long time. Guy Langworth was bad news for this town. Parker did us all a favor.”
“How’d he get hold of my mother’s gun?” I decided to die knowing all the facts.
“From Anne. Your mother gave it to her when she was going to divorce Parker a couple of years ago, and he threatened her. They worked out an agreement, but she kept the gun just in case.”
“Why did he kill Anne?” Candace asked.
Chief Everton hestitated. “Well, that was an accident. When I went to ask herabout the phone message—I knew it was her voice, not Trixie’s —things got a little heated. I was going to keep her out of the whole mess if she’d give me the information you were going to send to the attorney general. She said she didn’t know anything about it, but she was lying.”
“She wasn’t lying,” Candace said. “She didn’t know squat about what I was doing.”
“You killed her?” I asked at the same time Candace said, “You were the one who broke into my office? And Trixie’s hotel room?”
“Parker got Danny to do that.”
“How?” Mitch asked.
“Parker can be persuasive.” The hand with the gun came up a little. “Okay, Trixie, into the storeroom.”
Mitch moved closer to me. “She’s not going anywhere.”
“You do realize I can take all three of you out in a matter of seconds,” Chief Everton said.
“Well, you’re going to do it anyway, one way or another,” Candace said. “I’d prefer the firing squad approach as opposed to whatever else you have in mind.”
“I do, too,” I said. “Being roasted to death isn’t my choice of a way to die.”
Mitch slid closer and caught my hand. Turning his face away from the chief, he mouthed, “Count three and hit the floor.”
He didn’t have to tell me twice, but first I hooked a foot between Candace’s legs sg squad approach asss chor another," seconds,"attorney general."her. They worked out an agreement, butossed them to Mi
and took her down with me. I saw Mitch charge the enemy, head down like a billy goat. At the same time, the back door swinging open bit into my shoulder, and I heard Stella Drake say, “Ghost-hunting, Chief Everton?” A key dangled from the fingers of one hand, and in the other she held a military-issue handgun.
Mitch used the cuffs on Chief Everton while Candace used her cell phone to call the state police. Then she called Rudy James and told him where Danny was. Stella Drake tucked the key and the gun into the pocket of her jumper and stood there looking pleased with herself.
“I got worried about you, Trixie,” she said. “Mr. White let us keep a key until we could get our display cases moved.” She licked her lips, dry with delayed fear. “And I had one of my ex-husband’s guns he left behind when he moved out.” She looked around. “I think I’ll sit down.”
I walked her toward the stairs and held her arm until she lowered herself onto the second step from the bottom. “How long were you standing out there listening?”
“Long enough.” She closed her eyes. “I’m not cut out for this sort of thing.”
I leaned down to hug her. “You’re amazing.”
“It didn’t make sense that Chief…that the man over there arrested you when you had an alibi and that he wasn’t interested in finding a missing boy, especially one as vulnerable as Danny.” She looked over at Mitch who was holding the chief’s gun on him.
“I wasn’t sure you were as upright as you appeared,” she said to him.
“I guess I wasn’t either,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
Mitch grimaced. “I went about this all wrong,” he said. “I should’ve insisted on calling Len Melton the minute Candace told me what she knew.”
“I still don’t know what you thought I was going to do about it,” I said to her.
“I don’t know either, but you were the one being charged with murder, so you had to know everything.”
“I don’t know about that,” I said, “but thanks for the thought—I think.”
“I told Candace this was a hare-brained scheme, meeting you here like this,” Mitch went on, “but I guess it flushed out the person we needed to find.”
“It’s my word against yours,” Doug Everton muttered.
“We’ll see,” Candace said. “With what I have, the state has a pretty good case against you as an accessory to a lot of things—and now we know you killed Anne.”
He looked away.
In a few minutes, the place was swarming with state police. We were all separated then to make statements, and I heard the officer who seemed to be in charge tell another one to go pick up Parker Aiken. I felt a sudden sympathy for Perry Aiken even though he seemed bent on seeing me tried and convicted. His mother was dead, and his father would be going away for a long stretch.
One Week Later
On the day before I left for home in Dallas, we all celebrated a new direction for Dreamland with hamburgers, hotdogs, and ice cream in the Drake sisters’ lush backyard. Danny, recovered from his ordeal and feeling something like the man of the hour—which he was—kept checking to make sure his mother was comfortable on the chaise lounge provided for her and circulated refilling soft drinks and the chip bowl.
As it turned out, he hadn’t seen Chief Everton at all, and when the man had grabbed him and carted him off to the old jail, he’d been at a loss to know what it was all about. But secure in the knowledge of how much he was cared about, he determined to wait out the experience without panic until it was over. “I knew Rudy would find me,” he said several times.
The Drake sisters announced they would be reopening their shop as soon as they could get their inventory returned from Little Rock. I told them I’d have Lawrence White draw up a new lease at half the rent which would begin only when they were ready to open.
Rudy and Dee had their own announcement: they were buying a new house with an attached two-bedroom apartment for Mrs. Jefferson and Danny. Dee wanted to work part-time to help with the initial expenses and had a few leads about good jobs.
Lindy had been hailed as something of a hero at the courthouse for her part in exposing the corrupt threads woven into the city and county governments. Candace said she’d confine her investigations to Dreamland’s history from now on.
Galen Ellard had been asked to continue in the mayor’s office until a new election could be held—one which he would likely win hands down. He’d also be overseeing the move back into the old courthouse which, upon a new inspection, revealed no violations that couldn’t be fixed with minor repairs.
Len Melton brought official word that all charges against me had been summarily dropped—and Perry Aiken had taken a leave of absence from his position as assistant district attorney.
Parker Aiken was still being held without bail for the murder of Guy Langworth.
Doug Everton, no longer chief of police, faced multiple charges including the murder of Anne Aiken.
Without a word to me, my mother had departed on a month-long cruise. Dad said it was better that way. “You both need the space.”
“That’s all that’s ever been between us—space,” I replied. “So there’s nothing new.”
“I don’t have an announcement,” Mitch said when the conversation turned to him. “I’m still just plugging along.” He glanced at me and seemed about to add something but didn’t.
“I have to go home to Dallas to take care of a few things there,” I said, “but I’ll be back to see about those loft apartments.” I thought of the safe in the ceiling and what might hold. I knew it was there, but no one else did, so if there was anything to find, it would still be there in a few weeks or months when I got back.
“And you’ll stay with us until you’re settled,” Letha said.
I smiled. “Where else?”
Later, Mitch hung around until everyone else had left, then asked me to walk with him to his car. “When will you be back?” he asked.
“I don’t know, but you have my number.”
“Right. Trixie, I…”
I put my hand on his arm. “I’m all right,” I said, “and you’ll get better. I promise.”
He nodded. “You’d have liked Macy. She’d have liked you.”
“I wish I’d known her.”
“Losing her still hurts.”
“Of course, it does. I think about Ned everyday—but not all day every day the way I used to.”
“You’ve given me hope.”
He took my hands between his. “Okay, Trixie Collier Blake. Be careful driving home tomorrow.”
“Of course, I will.”
He stopped at the end of the block and turned around to wave.
I stood on the curb watching his car until the lights disappeared in the distance.
Thanks to all who have read my little tale. If you enjoyed it, look for Books 2 and 3 coming soon.
Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland
Under the Sil’vry Moon
Come with the Love Light Gleaming