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Alex Peres Mystery 4 - Murder Came Second.docx
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Chapter 14

Cindy and I were sitting in the backyard, swapping our accounts of the day. Two of her clients had brought in their month-old baby girl to introduce her to Cindy and set up a college account, “Remember?” she asked. “I told you people started younger and younger. I expect to be called into a delivery room any time now.”

“Well,” I said, “as long as they don’t want you there at the moment of conception.”

She laughed and tousled my hair. Obviously the event had put her into a good mood, so I skipped over the tale of the dill plant. I knew it would only make her sad. However, I did tell her of Mom’s helping Noel with his lyrics and making chicken for the group at his B&B.

“He’s as slick as a used car salesman,” I grumbled. “First she’s doing his grocery and souvenir shopping, then she’s driving him around. Next she’s helping with his songs and making chicken for that whole bunch. I’m surprised she hasn’t told him off.”

Cindy looked at me curiously. “Why would she tell him off? Nobody is forcing her to fry a chicken.”

“Well, she’s not stupid. Surely she knows he’s using her.”

“I think not, darling girl. I’ve seen them having lunch downtown a lot, and the other day I ran into them on the pier, going out to the whale watching boat and giggling like kids, and Lainey saw them one night at the movies. Dating, my angel, it’s called dating.”

“Dating? My mother, dating? Don’t be absurd, Cindy. She doesn’t date. And an actor at that? Never! Anyway, he’s younger than she is.” I nodded abruptly. Certainly that settled it.

Cindy flashed a smile that tried not to become a laugh. “Well, Alex, somebody is often a little younger than somebody else in a twosome. And last I knew, dating isn’t limited to people under thirty who have not yet been married or procreated. Trust me, they’re dating. And having a wonderful time of it! Vive romance! Don’t you dare be a surly grouch to her about this!”

I squirmed in my chair. “God, Cindy, do you suppose—oh, hell no, couldn’t be. Well, I suppose a few lunches and a boat ride just kind of make up for the favors she’s done him. Anyway, they’ll all be gone in a week and I guess no harm done. I wouldn’t call it dating, Cindy, I really wouldn’t.”

She gave me a look that was simultaneously knowing, pitying, irritated and amused. “Whatever you say, dear, whatever you say.”

At that moment the back screen door of the actors’ quarters wailed its minatory opening squeak. Cindy glanced up. “Oh, it’s Elaine. Shall we ask her over for a drink?”

“No!” I said vehemently, deliberately not turning to look. “All they’ve done all day over there is fight and scream. I’ve had it with actors. And you’re trying to tell me my mother is dating one! I can’t wait for next week. I’ll escort them all to the Bourne Bridge. Peace, all I want is peace.”

“Alex, she’s sitting on the back steps, all by herself and—oh, dear—she’s crying.”

“Oh, sweet Jesus in the foothills, go see what’s wrong now. She probably sprained her toe.”

It seemed only seconds before Cindy and Fargo returned shepherding a sniffling Elaine across the yard. “Darling,” Cindy called brightly, “We’ve decided on vodka tonics, and Fargo asked nicely for a biscuit. Would you oblige us?”

I stood and managed a smile. “Certainly,” I replied with great heartiness. “My pleasure. I’ll be right back.”

In the kitchen, I put together their drinks plus a hefty bourbon for myself, and reached for the dog biscuits. “Asked nicely, did you? Are you sure?” Fargo did a little two-step and grinned. It was enough for me. “You’re the only sane one around this place. Here.”

He took it gently, and I followed him out the door with the tray of drinks. “Well, here we are,” I said cheerfully, handing out the glasses. “Is something wrong, Elaine? Can we help you with anything?” I really did like her. Cindy was nice. I would try to be nice.

She sipped her drink and sighed. “I truly guess I have to talk to someone. I’ve held this all in for so long, it’s simply consuming me. I hate to burden you two, but I guess I’m going to, aren’t I? Please promise me you won’t ever tell anyone what I’m about to say!” She looked at each of us seriously.

“Just Cindy, Fargo and me. It goes no further, I promise you.” I took a preparatory swallow of bourbon and braced myself for some silly tale of woe about somebody getting better billing than she did.

She placed her hand on my wrist. “You know who I am, don’t you?”

My God, had she got amnesia? Was she having some sort of breakdown? Was she going bonkers on us?

“Er . . . ah, yes, I guess so.” Maybe if I reminded her subtly, “Elaine Edgewood, Queen Gertrude, Queenie!” I laughed slightly. “Take your pick.”

“No, I mean who I really am.”

And all of a sudden, I did know.

At once, I was back in the early summer, with Fargo in front of the TV, while Cindy was away in Boston. One of those bio-dramas came on the telly, “The Woodchopper Widow.” The drama opened with the trial some thirty years ago. I saw the expressionless wife, who had been tried for stabbing her husband and feeding parts of him into a woodchopper. She had done so, she said, to protect her children from his sexual abuse of their children. And I remembered the tall, rather plain young daughter, swearing that their father had never abused her or her brother. Now, nearly three decades later, she sat before me, having acquired her mother’s long and graceful neck and rich, dark hair. Her plain looks had grown into a tall, quiet beauty. She had her mother’s intensity without the somewhat wild eyes.

“You’re Elaine. Elaine Leonard. Your mother . . . well, I mean . . . your father . . .” I could think of no way to end the sentence. “You’ve grown up.”

“And then some.” She smiled faintly. “I thought you recognized me when we first met. You looked at me rather sharply and said something about my seeming familiar. I thought you knew me and were just too polite to blurt it out.”

“No.” I sipped my drink. “I did think you looked familiar, but just assumed it was because I had seen you on a TV series. I didn’t recognize you as Elaine Leonard until just now. Although I did see that so-called bio-drama one of the cable stations did when your mother died.”

Cindy was looking from me to Elaine and back with total lack of understanding. I was sure Cindy had read about the event in one of her scandal mags, but had simply forgotten. Elaine took pity on her.

“When I was twelve and my brother was seven, Bobby told my mother that my father did ‘bad things that sometimes hurt’ to him and to me. He made matters worse by adding that I liked the bad things he did. My dad traveled a lot on business, and Mother had several days for this too terrible news to stew in her mind and let her imagine all sorts of horror scenes.”

She took a deep breath and went on. “Then, on a Friday, just as Dad pulled into the driveway from being away all week, a toddler across the way got loose from his mother and ran into the street. Dad dashed out and picked him up, and returned him to his mother with a playful swat on his bottom, for which the kid gave him a big smooch. Mom saw this from the kitchen window and decided it was a sign of further abuse, approved of by the toddler’s on-looking, smiling mother.”

“My God!” Cindy said. “Your poor mother must have simply been over the edge from worrying about it and imagining things that might have happened. If only she’d spoken to someone before your father came home!”

“Yes, that might have helped, but I think she was too mortified. In some way, certainly, she had cracked. She had never been terribly stable. Apparently, when my father entered the kitchen, she caught him completely off guard and stabbed him several times and then dragged him to the backyard. About that time Bobby and I returned from a birthday party, we saw Dad’s car in the drive, heard the chopper running and figured he was doing some yard work. We ran around the house and—”

“Stop, Elaine.” I put my hand on her arm. “Don’t put yourself through any more of this. How can we be of help to you?”

“By listening a bit longer, actually. I’ll skip the gory details and the trial. Moving right along . . . we had no close relatives, and a psychiatrist recommended Bobby and I be adopted separately. I was against that at the time, but later was very grateful. As they say, I really lucked out. Could I have one of your cigarettes?”

“Sure.” I pushed the pack and lighter across the table toward her. It seemed to be my role in life to supply cigarettes to people who had “quit” smoking. What would happen if I quit? Where would any of us find the stray, rare, necessary cigarette? It could change the world, cause nervous breakdowns, increase unemployment, turn farms into wastelands. Best I did not quit just yet.

Elaine lit one and continued. “My new family was great. I wanted to keep my first name, and they agreed that Elaine Edgewood was a fine name. They had a natural son a couple of years older than I, but had been advised at his birth to have no more children. Tim was a great brother. Just slightly bossy, protective and a great deal of fun. Mom and Dad had wanted a daughter, but kept putting it off till they heard of me, and the story moved them, and we were immediately attracted to each other when we met. They own a maple syrup farm in Vermont, and it was such a wonderful place to grow up! I loved—love—the place and them and my big brother to pieces. They were all supportive of my wanting to be an actress, although Tim used to tease me about it. Not anymore. Now he’s very proud. And somehow my parents found the money to give me a year at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts after I graduated college.”

“Do they know you’re a lesbian?” Cindy asked.

“You bet, and they have treated my lover, Joan, as if she were their daughter, too. They are truly splendid people. They understood when I was grown and asked where my birth mother was. I went to see her. I guess I made peace with her. It helped some. I didn’t see her again. She seemed rather content the way things were. She seemed calm, and they weren’t very strict with her. But I sent her little notes about my career and a small present now and then. It all helped.” She was sounding much calmer, and I was considerably relieved.

“How did Bobby make out?” I asked.

“Bobby had big problems. He swore to the end that Dad was abusive. I assure you he was not. And Bobby had no physical marks of abuse, nor did the shrink think his story held up. Unfortunately his hysterical babbling didn’t help Mother any, either. Anyway, the shrink saw him for a while, tried to help him and hoped he’d grow out of it. I guess maybe he did. We don’t discuss it.”

Cindy picked up our glasses and headed for the kitchen. “Don’t say anything important till I get back.” We didn’t, and on her return Elaine once again picked up her weird tale.

“Bobby was eventually adopted by a lovely, somewhat older couple who had no other children. They owned a big old family drugstore in a small Pennsylvania town. It was a great place. I visited once when I was in college. They sold everything in the world in it, and even had one of those old-fashioned marble ice cream counters with those wire stools that look so rickety. And when Bobby was the soda jerk, it was probably the one time in his life he was really popular and outgoing and had some fun. It’s too bad he didn’t stay there. I think he knew everyone in town. Actually, they changed his first name as well as his last, but I can’t seem to call him anything but Bobby, although I try not to in public.”

“Sounds like he made out pretty well, too.” I sipped my drink slowly. I still didn’t know what we were leading up to.

“Yes, for some time. I’m afraid my visit didn’t help, unfortunately. When I told him I was going to be an actress, he said he was going to be an actor. Just like that. Like you’d decide to have mustard on your hamburger because I put some on mine, and it looked good. But his parents went along with it, planned on college and a year’s acting school.”

“What happened? Did he do well?” I had begun to wonder just how long this saga was going to be.

“A big discount store moved into the area, and downtown businesses went downhill. Some even had to close, although the drug store managed to survive. It’s ironic, that our play here has the same theme, and it’s probably not helping Bobby’s emotional state. Anyway, there was no money for acting school, and university turned into a little community college in the next town over. And Bobby, grateful boy that he was, sued his parents for breach of contract!”

“He sued them?” Cindy’s eyebrows were on the rise again.

“Yep. Sued them for breach of contract. He said they had a verbal contract to send him to the University of Pennsylvania and then to a year in acting school. His grades were good enough to get into Penn, ergo, they had to send him. He had lived up to his part of the bargain.”

“I assume nobody allowed him to pursue that madness.” I pulled my cigarettes back and lit one, scolding myself silently on general principals. I had long ago lost count.

“Well, yes, he actually found a lawyer who was willing to represent him, but a judge threw it out before it ever came to court. Can you imagine the precedent it would have set? It boggles the mind! Kids would be suing their parents over a new bike! Unfortunately, word of it spread all over town. Bobby’s parents were very popular and well thought of in the area. While most people looked on it as just a stupid teenage trick by a spoiled brat. Bobby immediately became a treacherous young villain to some. He actually received threats, to the point where he decided to leave town.”

I sipped my drink and groused, “I’m surprised he wasn’t tarred and feathered and ridden out on a rail.”

“No, it never got violent.” Elaine sighed. “But his parents were afraid it might, and gave him a couple of thousand dollars they couldn’t spare. He came to New York to become an actor.”

“I’m afraid they were much more generous than I would have been,” Cindy added. “I think my only expenditure for him would have been a one-way bus ticket to Burnt Cactus, Arizona.”

“How did he make out as an actor?” I sucked on an ice cube and hoped the end of the tale was in sight.

“He spent a few months at some third-rate acting school, and then thought he should be leading man in every play scheduled for a Broadway run. God! After four years as a drama student in college, one at AADA and three years doing off-off-Broadway walkons, I had finally gotten the part of a salacious maid with about twelve good lines in A Goldfish Bowl on Broadway. I was so grateful, I walked around saying ‘Thank you, God,’ over and over everyday.”

Cindy nodded in understanding. “Did you see much of him at this time?”

“Too damned much. He was living with a couple of guys who wanted to get rid of him, and he wanted to move in with us. But Joan was teaching, I was trying to get my own career going, and we had her little girl Katie, so fortunately, we had no room, or time, to help him. I tried to help him get parts, but he messed up the few he got. His attitude was that he knew it all, and no director had anything of value to tell him. He seemed to have no future in the theater at all. Of course, he has apparently found his niche and is doing quite well.”

She filched another cigarette and looked at me as she returned the pack. “May I presume you’ve already guessed that Bobby is here with us?”

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