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Alex Peres Mystery 4 - Murder Came Second.docx
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Chapter 26

Fargo was snoring lightly within seconds. Cindy was breathing deeply within minutes. Wells was a silent dark blob on the windowsill. I was abruptly wide-awake and apparently going to stay that way. I tried my left side and then my right. I tried counting backward from a hundred. I tried naming all the states alphabetically. I got up, slipped into some sweats and mocs for the cool night and headed back to the kitchen. Looking at me in sad reproach, Fargo sighed and padded down the hall behind me, whuffling irritably.

I made myself a bourbon highball, gave him a biscuit and sat down at the kitchen table with a cigarette. Thoughts were circling in my brain in some sort of jumble that I couldn’t turn off. They were bothering me badly. I was sure some of them were wrong, felt that some of them were backward, and others were escaping me entirely. An example? I wasn’t sure I even had an example. I wished I had Sonny’s blackboards.

Lacking them, I went into the office and brought back two fairly large pieces of cardboard I used in matting my photographs. I propped them on the kitchen table.

On one I wrote: Elaine, relatively famous leading lady. Charming and warm as long as things go her way. Threatened by Terese.

On the other I wrote: Bobby, failed actor, excellent stage manager, not famous at all. Growly but appealing. Lonely? Afraid of being hurt by Terese?

Funny, how I had changed the wording. Then I remembered something Elaine had said the evening she told us her whole sad tale in the backyard. She told us Bobby had sworn his father abused him, had touched him intimately and made him feel uncomfortable, had done things that had hurt. Yet Elaine was adamant her father had never abused either her or Bobby.

If true, how would a seven-year-old boy know certain kinds of sex with a grown man could hurt? And how come the shrink hadn’t managed to get him to admit he had lied? Surely the shrink could get the truth out of a seven-year-old! What if it was not Bobby who lied, but Elaine?

I remembered a book of Sonny’s on child abuse that I had read once, when we had a man on the prowl for kids here in town. I had been quite surprised to learn that over time, abused children could be quite flattered by the attention and feeling of importance and adulthood, even though they knew it was wrong, even though it might be painful. They could even be jealous of other children the abuser paid attention to, if they knew about it.

Recalling the book further, I remembered that abusers usually grew tired of their male or female victims when they reached certain ages, usually puberty, when they lost the cuteness and sweet softness of the young child. In a girl, perhaps when “she began to bleed down there” and the abuser found it “gross.” Then perhaps a father might turn his sights to his young son and explain to him the special “man-to-man love” they could share.

Then I mentally finished off another sentence that Bobby had tried to utter a few hours back, and wrote it on my cardboard. “If you—Elaine?—hadn’t told . . . she—mother?—wouldn’t have . . .” I ended it for him: “wouldn’t have taken Daddy away, and then they took her away, too.” Maybe it was not Bobby who squealed to his mother that Daddy was abusive, but a jealous Elaine who decided to get even with both fickle father and the new love object son.

Obviously, she wouldn’t have counted on her mother killing her father, but Elaine’s hatred may have been deep enough to make the act seem justified when she did. And being unsaddled from an unstable mother after the murder would have been okay, too. Young Elaine was already a pretty good actress! She was just a sweet young girl who finally convinced the authorities nothing had happened, because, batting her big dark eyes, nothing could possibly have happened with her loving, normal father.

And Bobby, poor little brother, was imagining things, mentally unhinged like his mother.

Then Elaine had charmed her way into a nice adoptive family and never looked back.

When she visited Bobby once in Pennsylvania, she did him in again, purposely or accidentally. When she bragged of being an actress, he immediately sought her approval by saying he would be an actor. And when his adoptive parents couldn’t afford tuitions, Bobby took it as one more abandonment episode in his rocky life and filed his silly, but hurt-filled lawsuit. Failing at that, he went to New York to seek out the one person still standing from those few years when he had had his own family, and when they had all loved each other.

I drained my highball and put on a pot of coffee. I needed to stretch my legs, so Fargo and I took a turn of the yard, which we found safe from two- or four-legged intruders. Back inside, coffee was done, and we shared a pastry left from breakfast. With an apologetic lick, Fargo left my side and retreated across the kitchen to the cozy warmth of his bed, and I was left with my jigsaw puzzle.

But the pieces were becoming easier to fit now, and I could see a definite picture.

My cardboards were becoming filled with abbreviated notes.

Elaine could have subtly sabotaged what acting jobs Bobby did get, and this could have triggered the antagonism he displayed if at all threatened or opposed. I had seen examples of that in the last few weeks. His personality was not geared to smoothing troubled waters. But eventually he gave up acting and became a capable stage manager. So he no longer comprised competition for Elaine. She had once again gotten him out of her way, and further away from the possibility anyone might tie them together and dig up the woodchopper scandal.

Then up pops nosy Terese Segal, far from an imaginary menace! Bobby, I thought was mainly scared of being back in a lurid spotlight. He seemed a retiring soul who liked his work and simply wanted to be left alone with whatever life he had managed to cobble together for himself. He may have had a few friends but probably was fairly content just being quietly alone most of the time. Now the whole thing might well surface again, with him in the painful heat of the limelight.

But Elaine had more to lose than privacy. She was pretty much a household name. A good actress with feature roles on stage and on TV. Perhaps not the brightest star on the marquee, but definitely up there and shining. And her lover was a teacher. Scandal was a no-no for teachers. Now Terese was threatening to revive the whole disgraceful event, from child abuse to a dismembered father and a lunatic mother, to a lesbian affair, with the two lesbians raising a child, and one of them a teacher. A plum, a big juicy plum for the star reporter of the A-List.

That couldn’t appear in type. They simply couldn’t let it. To paraphrase Harmon, action had to be taken.

That night in our backyard, I think Elaine’s tears, while very well done, were all of the crocodile variety. Maybe our alligator gave acting classes. I think she told that tale with the full knowledge that she was prepared to kill Terese, knowing I would have to tell Sonny the entire screed at some point. And of course, it would be slanted just the right amount in her favor. Because that’s the way I had heard it, that was the way I would remember it. I would inadvertently put Sonny firmly on Elaine’s side.

According to Noel, Elaine tried several times the next day to talk with Terese, unsuccessfully and almost certainly growing more freaked out with each refusal. And the events of Tuesday offered one good opportunity after another. The messed up rehearsal had the entire company irritated, frustrated and tired. The heavy rains added to their misery.

The two people Elaine most needed not to be thinking clearly—Terese and Paul—were drunk. The others staying at the Brownlees’ had either had several drinks or taken a pill to help them sleep.

After two frustrating bouts of unsuccessful sex, Terese was in a drunken rage. In all probability she went downstairs to scrounge a final nightcap. Possibly, having had little dinner, she went for a snack. Either way, when Elaine heard her go down the front stairs, Elaine went down the back, stripped, donned the plastic raincoat and hat, and stabbed Terese.

Elaine’s first red herring was the six stab wounds—implicating Harmon, Bobby, the household members or the ever-handy transient robber. The Hicktown cops could take their choice.

Her second was the entire robbery scene, complete to suggesting that even the maids knew Harmon was careless of boot tracks. Although, the police could still have thought it was our visiting robber, after the silver, which Elaine carefully “stole.”

The third was Carlucci’s car. Elaine had doubtless stayed sober and appointed herself designated driver so that she could keep the car keys after driving home from the restaurant. She could easily deny keeping the keys, since the next morning they were on the hook by the back door with all the van keys, as usual.

At some point, she had to discard the raincoat and hat and redress in her own clothing. She could most safely have done that outdoors, perhaps behind the garage, letting the rain wash both the coat and her body and hair. If the police ever found the plastic raincoat and hat, it would certainly help . . . but much less so if they were washed clean by the downpour.

Right now, I needed help, and something told me Sonny would not be answering his phone. Fortunately, Mitch was, after a number of rings, and not happily. Following a lengthy conversation, he agreed to meet me at Elaine’s room at the Chambered Nautilus at eight thirty.

I went back to bed, certain I would be unable to sleep. I’d be happy just to get horizontal and try to relax for a few hours. Fargo had no such problems. He simply came back into the bedroom, flopped on the floor and was gone.

I set the clock and steeled myself for the sleepless hours. That was my last thought for the remainder of the night.

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