Charlotte reluctantly accepts Mike's date and begins to realize that there's more to the conflict than pettiness.
Charlotte looked up at the clock, it was a little after 2 p.m. She pinched the sinus cluster above her nose bridge again; the throbbing subsided to a dull knock behind her eyes. Shaking her head, Charlotte pressed on pounding away at her Dell laptop. Greta puttered about on her Motorola Slvr /cell making calls to the victim's families and friends trying to arrange interviews. Eddie and Callie had left for Copeland Reality after breakfast, Leticia and Chris an hour later for their first stop at the sheriff's office for their filming permits and then it was off to The /Cavern. Greta put down her cell scribbling on her legal pad then filled out a colored index card and taped it up on the timeline the PA's constructed on a whiteboard.
"Any luck?" Charlotte asked not looking up from her monitor.
Greta blew a tired breath. "Well I got the siblings of victim #3 on board."
"And who was victim #3, again?" Greta flipped open Charlotte's fat white binder; dividers were already tearing loose from the rings and Post It page markers spat free every time she turned a page. "Shelly Whittaker, 17. Grant High senior and glee club star."
"How did she die?"
"According to our copy of the police report she was raped, sodomized and drowned in the fountain in Buxton Hall's back yard. It's where her naked body was found."
"Name all the other victims so I could get this down, Greta please?" Charlotte asked opening up another Word document.
"Heath Davies, 17; Grant High senior and captain of the football team was victim #1. He was stabbed 36 times with a hunting knife and was found in the kitchen. Victim #2 was Melinda Connelly, 17; Grant High senior was a debate team superstar. She was also raped but she was tortured unlike Whittaker because she resisted the perp. Connelly was tied down, there were rope burns on her wrists, ankles and throat and was beaten with what the county coroner assumed was a sledgehammer handle. She was tossed naked off the second floor landing onto the main floor's gallery ultimately breaking her neck. Victim #4 was Quentin Palmer, 17; Grant High senior and a defenseman on the basketball team. His body was found in the wine cellar; Palmer was apparently trying to find a way to sneak out. His throat was cut so far that he was nearly decapitated. The last victim, #5, was Spenser York, 17; Grant High senior and he had a university wrestling scholarship. He was upstairs in the third floor's master bedroom when he flung a chair shattering this huge stain glass window there, but before he could climb out he was pushed onto this huge shard of glass spiking from the frame. He was impaled through-in-through."
It was a 50-year-old murder, but Charlotte felt just as disgusted as if it happened last week. The only thing she was able to keep down was a/ Tropicana/ smoothie and after what she heard Charlotte was glad that was all she had in her stomach. The police dossier's photos contained what would have been their yearbook headshots, the five of them were the quintessential all-American clean-cut suburbanite kids, a dream come true for today's parents. There was also nothing in the dossier to suggest that the five had shady pasts, aside from team hazing and a detention for Connelly for smoking in the girls' bathroom.
"So what the hell were these brats doing in a house in the middle of the woods that had been deserted from before WW II?" Charlotte asked.
"Cops didn't find any drug paraphernalia," Greta said. "But Whittaker had a full picnic basket with a six-pack."
"And the guys had a/ buttload/ of rubbers." Charlotte paused her typing and shifted in her chair to face Greta. The women crooked their eyebrows.
"Orgy." They declared in unison.
"Do you think we could get Grant to scrounge up a copy of their '57 yearbook?" Charlotte asked. "I know they didn't officially graduate, but they had to have been given something posthumously."
"Thinking of something, Dick Tracy?" Greta taunted.
"Very funny. I just wanted to check something out in the photographs. There might be something we could use." Charlotte returned to her laptop.
"Thinking of a re-enactment? Hiring actors won't sit too well with Lord Floyd." Charlotte gave Greta a vile look at her mention of Floyd's name. She spoke slowly and carefully.
"If it comes to that, we can recruit locals. Starving Middleton University drama students would do anything for exposure."
"So we're going to the college now? Why not just get the Grant kids to do it? They'd love playing Nightmare on Elm Street for a day."
"You're forgetting Greta, they're minors. We'd need parental permission. But like I said, if and only if it comes to that."
"Mike's an alumnus of Middleton. I'm sure he could help."
"I, uh, was hoping that you might take care of that for me, Greta." Charlotte said tightly. "In light of what happened last night, I don't think the mayor would be pleased to see me."
"Oh c'mon Charlotte," Greta whined, "just go and apologize to Mike about calling him a dumb jock and get it over with. This town is too damn small. You can't exactly hide, for Crissakes!"
"Greta you make no sense! I wasn't calling the mayor a dumb jock, he had nothing to do with the conversation thus I don't see why I should apologize to him."
"You did mean him! You did!" Greta argued. "You generalized all varsity lettermen. You didn't say 'the El Camino Real varsity lettermen,' you said 'the varsity lettermen.' Henceforth Mike is included because he is a varsity letterman. And on top of that you said that all high school wrestlers were the dumbest, and Mike earned his varsity letters by making the wrestling team."
"You've made your point Greta." Charlotte hoped she placated her. "But there's no way in hell that I'm going to apologize to the mayor. End of story."
"He's been nothing but nice to us," Greta reminded her. "He let you get away with saturating him during the town council meeting."
"I was going to offer to pay for his clothes getting cleaned. But his brother stepped in and it was too late."
"The point is, you could have still offered." Charlotte was poleaxed. Her juniors were giving her the third degree? At what time did the universe go out of whack?
"Greta, you just wouldn't understand."
That wasn't going to wash with her. "Why? 'Cause I'm younger that you? Not by that much, lady." Charlotte was beginning to regret getting into a debate with Greta. She should have just taken her work upstairs, but it was too late and Charlotte reluctantly decided that the only way to make Greta happy was to 'fess up and tell her the truth.
"Let's take a walk to the /7-Eleven/."
"Why?" Great queried. "We get take-out every night."
"We need coffee." Charlotte zipped her Treo into her little purse and shouldered it.
"But you don't drink coffee."
"But I'm not the only one who's hungover."
Greta and Charlotte decided to waste time and walked to Main Street. Kids' screams and adults' chatter filled the air that Saturday afternoon, and Charlotte basked in it. She was glad to not have gotten dressed up, feeling as though she stuck out like a sore thumb. She wore dark boot cut jeans, K-Swiss sneakers and a Crow: City of Angels white baby doll. Charlotte wore a simple white gold and black pearl necklace and on her right hand was one of her grandmother's priceless platinum rings with five rows of flawless Cambodian rubies.
Greta never failed to turn heads with her punk/goth mode in knee-high black army boots, leggings, a worn black denim mini with frayed hem and a scarlet tank top with shoelace ribbons and safety pins. Her short nails matched her lips, a glossy black cherry; she wore a spiked cuff on her right wrist and on her left was a much wider and heavier cuff decorated with pewter skulls and crossbones and huge jingling rings. Around her neck was a glittering silver skull and crossbones chain and part of her hair was held up with a red plastic barrette in a ponytail that jerked spasmodically when she moved her head. On every finger were silver, amber, turquoise and onyx. She had six piercings in her right ear with only one in her left.
"Where'd you go to high school Greta?" Charlotte thought that the best way to begin her story.
"North Hollywood High." Greta stated.
"You'd still be in school for a more few years when I graduated."
"Anyway, when I was in El Camino I was one of the teachers' sacrificial lambs to tutor the lettermen. Specifically, the ones who had skulls of Teflon." Charlotte shut her mouth as she and Greta ambled by Veronica Wesley's beauty parlor that happened to have its front door open. When the two women jumped through that hoop, Charlotte glanced over her shoulder to ensure that neither employee nor patron was aware of their presence. They were safe. "It was difficult."
"To say the least," Greta added.
"What I did next I'm especially not proud of. Not so much of the deed itself, but why I did it... from then on my life became complicated."
"I don't see what's so complicated about it, Charlotte." Greta and Charlotte paused in front of the launderette. "The pissed off teachers sick of threatening dumb jocks with team expulsion approach the coach. The coach in turn goes to the principal incensed over some glorified nerd dissing his all-star lineup. Now realistically people could care less about the results of the science fair or the A/V club's film festival opposed to winning pennants and homecoming games. The principal sides with the coach but has to make a pretense of fairness by enforcing the old 'C minus or he gets the heave-ho.' The teacher employs his geek contingency who are starved for extra credit, glowing college recommendation letters and the holiest of Holy Grails, the removal of P.E. from their schedules- for the rest of their high school careers! Am I right?"
"That and the sex extortion." A bomb fell on Greta. Charlotte? Erotic graft?
"Come again- no pun intended." Greta squeaked.
"Put out or it's an automatic F." Charlotte deadpanned.
"What was your turnout?"
"100%" Greta knew Charlotte spoke the truth.
"Player! You held out, bitch!" Greta yelled. "We're not friends any more!" Charlotte ignored her and strolled on. "Hey, wait up!"
Rising up off the floor from picking up a sock that was knocked beneath a table, Mike watched Greta chase after Charlotte down Brown Lane. The only thing that was there was the 7-Eleven/, suddenly Mike had a hankering for a /Big /Gulp/.
The automatic glass doors slid apart and Charlotte ambled in with Greta hot on her heels.
"I can't believe you!" Greta pulled Charlotte's arm walking through an aisle.
"Is it because of the way I look why you can't believe me?" Greta was floored. Truly Charlotte could be so candid about herself at times that others interpreted that as pseudo self-mutilation.
"I didn't mean it in that way, Charlotte." Greta said guiltily. Mike walked in and stifled the cashier's greeting to him. He saw the tops of the women's heads as they pulled items off a shelf and into a red plastic tote. "Maybe it's because I've known you and Leticia for a long while now, and I've always seen you as the more level-headed one."
"I'll take that as a compliment." Charlotte examined a can of unsalted cashews and reshelved it.
"But you doing all those jocks, just so they could get a C... what sluts!"
"Geeky girls deserve bragging rights just as much as any cheerleader." Two boxes of Act II popcorn and a jar of hot nacho cheese salsa went into their tote.
"Tejano popcorn tonight?" Greta asked.
"Why not?" Charlotte shrugged. "Oh! Greta, could you grab me a jar of /Skippy/- smooth- and some honey?" And just as she finished making her request the items fell into the tote.
"I do hope that's not just for sandwiches and tea." Mike said. Charlotte glowed a new shade of red knowing he overheard her conversation.
"Well I'm gonna go looking around for some mixers," Greta piped up.
"Greta!" Charlotte snarled pissed that she would bail on her.
"I'll take that, Charlotte." Greta relieved her of the tote. "See ya!" Charlotte could only gape after Greta high-tailing it out of the snack aisle.
"That little biyatch..."
"So what is this I hear about a 100% turnout?" Mike asked.
"Didn't your mother ever tell you that it isn't nice listening in on other peoples conversations?" Charlotte asked shortly.
"Didn't yours ever tell you that it isn't nice to call all athletes dumb jocks?" Unscrupulously Mike used Charlotte's words against her.
"You wouldn't understand."
"Try me." Mike shrugged. "Let's have dinner."
"I can't." Charlotte implored.
"Doesn't have to be formal." Mike pressed on.
"You like Spanish food? There's this great little place called El Encuentro. They have the best paella!"
"I'll pick you up at eight." He was already down the aisle. "Wear something... dark and short!" On his way out he saluted the cashier. "See ya Randy!" Charlotte was moving in and out of consciousness unsure if what just happened was truly reality or if she was in /The Matrix/. Greta approached Charlotte with plastic grocery bags, their items having been paid.
"Charlotte?" She tentatively called to her.
"I have nothing to wear," Charlotte said, "and yet I have somehow made a date with a dumb jock."
"Great!" Greta beamed. "Let's go hit that outlet mall. Now I have the perfect excuse to go!"
Charlotte was stupid to think that hiding in her room would benefit her in dodging everyone's prying, especially Leticia's. But Leticia made it a point to plant herself in Charlotte's bedroom.
"Are you sure you don't want to borrow anything?" Leticia asked the closed bathroom door. Charlotte turned off the tap and opened the door. She wore a rockabilly midnight blue dress with white polka dots. She also hoped that her glare answered Leticia's question. "Just asking." Charlotte dumped her makeup case out onto the mirrored bureau and sorted through her lipsticks. She applied her industrial strength cover stick to conceal her blemishes and worry lines and colored her lips with a muted shade of rose. She tossed in a compact and lipstick along with her wallet, Treo and a small digital recorder/ /into a tiny matching clutch bag.
"Do you know how many shops that I had to drudge through to find something that didn't look like slutwear for teens?" Charlotte complained to Leticia. "I stopped counting after twelve." Charlotte unzipped her suitcase and pulled out a pair of strappy black inch high pumps. "And Greta wanted me to go looking like Ultraviolet!"
"The point is," Leticia sai, "is that you finally came around and accepted Mike's dinner invitation. And you can't stand that."
"First of all, I didn't accept anything he managed to use mind control on me to disable my rational thought processes!" Charlotte growled stooping to slide on her shoes. "And secondly, I might as well get it over with so I can prove to him once and for all that I am not the best date at this point in time." Charlotte whipped out a diaphanous blue scarf from her suitcase and tied it in her hair.
"And how praytell will you be ruining this evening?"
"You'll see." Charlotte winked to her best friend. There was a knock on the door and Eddie stepped in.
"Madame, your chariot awaits."
After Charlotte shut the front door behind her she checked to see if anyone was peeking between the blinds in the front window. When she saw no shadows, she was satisfied. She turned and saw Mike standing beside a retired U.S. Army jeep dressed in jeans and a white dress shirt and couldn't contain her laughter.
"Nice wheels, Mr. Mayor."
"Like it?" He spread his arms proudly. "I fell in love with it at a government auction."
"Men fall in love with the weirdest things." Charlotte replied.
"Would include you?"
"You look nice." Mike complemented drinking her up with his eyes.
"I know. So what time's our reservation?" Charlotte asked getting into the jeep. Mike jogged around the other side to get behind the wheel.
"8:30." He slammed the door behind him. "But this place doesn't exactly require reservations."
Charlotte's worst fears expected a greasy spoon, but when they pulled up to an eatery with a stylish brown overhang and terra cotta everywhere Charlotte couldn't help but admire Mike's tastes. The bastard.
They were seated by the windows, a candle in a brandy snifter burned between them. Charlotte studied her leather bound menu intently, Mike did the same and a college-aged waitress with punkish short haircut and a nametag with the name Nina walked over to them.
"Good evening, my name is Nina and I'll be your waitress tonight." She brightly ran through her routine. "Would you like a drink before you order?"
"/Diet Coke/, please." Charlotte requested without missing a beat. Mike looked a bit disappointed just as he was about to ask for the wine list. He supposed the jack off-worthy spitfire Charlotte would not be making an appearance tonight.
"I'll have the same," Mike said.
"Right away." Nina vanished to get their drinks.
"So where's this world-class paella you were bragging about?" Charlotte asked flipping through the menu's laminated pages.
"Check under the 'Main Course' section." Mike pointed out and Charlotte took a sip of her ice water. "I have something for you." Mike said grabbing her attention from the menu.
"Do tell." Charlotte said. Mike reached beneath his seat and produced a 1957 Grant High School yearbook. Part-time magician must be on his resume beneath 'mayor' and 'businessman.' "'The Shield,'" Charlotte recited its title. Grant's logo, a Roman soldier on a charging horse delineated by the school name all done in gilt embossing on the maroon leather. "'What we are to be, we are now becoming.'" Was the school's motto, Charlotte flipped open the cover and read from the title page. "'Home of the Lancers.' Football team?"
"Yeah, pretty damn good team if I say so myself." Mike said.
"But you were a Daredevil. Didn't make the cut?" Charlotte jibbed.
"In my opinion," Mike cleared his throat, "football's more fun to watch. Besides I liked wrestling much better. I was wiry back then."
"Yeah you were." Charlotte agreed recalling photos of his skinny teen self. They laughed together and luckily Nina reappeared balancing their sodas in tall, sweaty fountain glasses on a tray.
"Here you are." Nina doled out the Cokes before setting the empty tray down on a corner of the table. "Are you ready to order?" Mike and Charlotte responded in the positive. "Good. Would you like to start with an appetizer or go straight to the main course?"
"Straight to the main course, please." Charlotte spoke up. "I'll just have the paella-"
"No you won't." Mike interjected. "We'll start out with an appetizer." Nina flipped open her notepad as Mike ordered straight from his memorization of the menu. "We'll have the assorted tapas, Caesar salad, for the main my guest will have the shellfish paella, I will have the pescadito frito, a bottle of your house wine- white and chilled- and for dessert we'll have the flan and some churros with hot chocolate."
"Very good." Nina said and relayed the order to the kitchen. Mike was feeling very pleased with himself but Charlotte couldn't believe his audacity.
"Well I think we'll be set for the night."
"What are tapas?" Was the only thing Charlotte could say without strangling him.
"Uh, excuse me!" Mike called to Nina. "I think we'll have that wine now."
"Don't think you're going to get away with this, Mr. Mayor." Charlotte rifled through her purse and laid the digital recorder on the pink tablecloth. "I intend to use this dinner to my full advantage."
"Research for your film treatment?" He asked.
"Tell me about Cooper's Dairy Farm... and Red Beauregard's resentment." Mike and Charlotte locked eyes for a long moment, and there was nothing remotely romantic about it. Mike had on his poker face just as Charlotte did, and he knew he wouldn't be able to shake her off with a charming grin like some cub reporter from the local paper.
"You know, I hate politics." Charlotte settled in for a long diatribe that she hoped wouldn't lead to nowhere. "My father regarded the word as bad as any three or four-letter word you could think of. It's why I wanted this job."
"To piss off your dad? That's so high school Mr. Mayor."
"Cooper's Dairy went under when I was in junior high. It's the largest piece of real estate in this county, and it's worth a pretty penny." Mike said. "Fights like the one you saw on Friday have been going on since then. As you probably know, Mayor Beauregard was the president of Madison Savings once upon a time, and developers had been pandering to him for many years over the dairy farm." Mike crossed his arms across his chest. "I'm not opposed to development, Charlotte. I just want to ensure the survival of my town. I've seen places like Eden turn into ghost towns because of people who only care about the bottom line. Now I don't think that 'trendy' snobs sipping coffee with hoity-toity names from a foreign language class that I flunked eating stale cookies are going to benefit Eden!"
The knot in Charlotte's throat reluctantly loosened and her chest rose exhaling that breath trapped under her palpitating heart.
"Do you think you could do that again on camera?"
"As for Red, He would have benefited from the sale of it twofold- both as the mayor and bank president. But he's since retired to his fishing boat and the country club, so whenever he flaps his gums it's all just a bunch of sour grapes."
"I don't know Mike," Mike's blue eyes screwed up from his soda at Charlotte's mention of his first name. "Some of those council members were dead-set on getting that Eden Plaza built."
"Now I thought," Mike put aside his drink, "you were here to make a movie about the murder house."
"Y'know Mike, back in ECR, I just wasn't president of the A/V club, I was also student editor of our newspaper." Charlotte informed him. "As a writer, I like to look at things from all angles."
"Well I hope you'll be looking at me from all angles." Charlotte just smiled at Mike. Nina came sweeping in carrying their appetizer and wine in a silver bucket filled with ice.
Deputy Drew Potter sat in his gold and black decaled sheriff's cruiser drinking coffee from an aluminum thermos and ate cold pepperoni pizza overlooking Lake Pleasant. Confident his white vehicle was obstructed by the foliage and trees, he watched one of the motor yachts pull away from the pier and cross the iridescent water, rippling the reflective glow from the full moon above. The yacht cut its engines in the middle of the lake and dropped anchor. Drew popped open the glove compartment digging for the /Carnation /hazelnut creamer when a droning noise made his ears perk up. He reached for his binoculars and put them up to his face when he saw a speedboat on approach for the yacht. Red Beauregard came up to the deck and lowered the ladder to admit the pilot of the speedboat as it slowed to a stop by his vessel.
Drew saw Beauregard heartily welcome Gerard La Belette, Tim Sanford and another man he didn't recognize dressed in a dark grey suit looking pensive behind his coke bottle glasses embracing a leather briefcase. Quite an interesting get-together, but it hardly looked as though they were out to do some night fishing. He flipped open his cell phone to compose an e-mail.
Charlotte and Mike were laughing like high school sweethearts meeting up at the reunion when his jeep pulled up to the rented house. Charlotte toted a big white paper bag filled with churros from the restaurant. Mike politely didn't attempt to hold her hand as they walked up the path.
"Did you like dinner?" He asked her.
"I did, very much. But don't know how I'll fit into this dress again, thanks to you! But I doubt I'll wear it again."
"I think you will."
"Would you mind if we do this some time again?" Charlotte stopped knowing he was going to ask her out on a follow-up date. Although she interviewed him all throughout dinner, Mike didn't seem to be put off by it in the least and managed to evade her every question with an ambiguous or facetious answer. It was a game to him.
"Maybe." Was all Charlotte was willing to say.
"Maybe?" Mike asked.
"Well that's a good thing, isn't it?" Mike asked.
"I think so." Charlotte conceded. She touched his shoulder, levered herself on her toes and kissed his cheek. It took every ounce of self-control in Mike not to grab her and shove his tongue down her throat. "Good night, Mike."
"Good night, Charlotte." He watched her go the rest of the way and mount the porch. Charlotte was shutting the door behind her when she saw Mike unclip his /BlackBerry /from his belt and tap a few keys. From a crack in the door she saw a quizzical expression cross his face and he loped back to his jeep to take off down the street in a big hurry.
"Well Lucy, how was the big date?" Leticia asked. Charlotte almost jumped out of her skin and switched on the lights. Leticia was sprawled on the sofa wearing black silk pajamas, a camisole and trousers, eating Edy's cookies n' cream from the carton.
"Scoot over Ethel." Charlotte pushed off Leticia's legs to sit down. The muted T.V. played the late night movie, /Striking Distance/. "Nothing happened, just to clear things up." Charlotte swiped the spoon from her girlfriend before plunging it into the frozen confection and dug out a chunk of vanilla and /Oreo/.
"I could tell."
"What are we watching?"
"One of Bruce's last good jobs and Sarah Jessica pre-/Sex/." Leticia said. "What's that?" She pointed to the white paper bag. Charlotte opened the bag and held it under her chin.
"I'll get the /Ovaltine/." Leticia clapped Charlotte's thigh.
Monday morning the fun began and the U.F.O. team assembled in The Cavern. The breakfast crowd didn't seem the least perturbed at having their meals interrupted with lights set up and cables snaking everywhere taped to the floor, the camera and monitors blocking the entrance. The waiters milled around refilling coffee cups, bringing more toast and carting away empty dishes. Miguel, the fry cook, slung out everything from Mexican breakfast pizza to steak and eggs. Waiters affixed their orders to a metal wheel in the kitchen window behind the bar and Miguel rang the bell for their pick ups. Dell worked the bar pouring coffee and brewing cappuccino from a copper contraption that looked like a water heater from the thirties. The doughnuts, muffins and other pastries were just delivered from Capistrano's Bakery and she was piling them under glass cake domes and on plastic trays with fresh paper doilies.
Leticia dressed in a miniskirt white power suit was running through the script with Charlotte as Greta dusted powder on a middle-aged man in a flannel shirt and jeans seated at a table before the camera. Chris darted between the truck and the camera. Sheriff Lambert Stuckey stood by the bar drinking his coffee fascinated by the whole hoopla.
"Dell," Stuckey asked the owner, "tell me again what exactly they're doin' here? Makin' the murder house movie?"
"It's a documentary film, Lambert." Dell corrected him.
"Like those JFK shows on /The History Channel/?"
"I would think so Lambert. Want me to hit you again?" Dell held up the glass coffee pot.
"Don't mind if I do." Stuckey pushed his cup and saucer forward. Dell brought him the sugar holder and tended to her other customers. Drew yawned beside Stuckey, his head on his big folded arms. "Boy did you go home at all last night?!" Stuckey scolded his deputy. Drew groggily blinked and was just barely able to pick up his head.
"Sorry Sheriff... paperwork..." He mumbled.
"Is that what you were doin' at the office? On a Sunday?" Mike walked in; Charlotte was so preoccupied with Leticia that she didn't take notice.
"'Morning everybody." He said taking a seat at the bar and turning over a cup on its saucer to which Dell filled immediately.
"Good morning Mikey." Dell said.
"Mike." Stuckey greeted him inclining his chin. Mike whapped Drew on his back.
"C'mon Drew, buddy! Wakey, wakey! Eggs n' bakey!" Drew just yawned. "Long night?" Mike asked the sheriff.
"This lazy-ass," Stuckey bemoaned, "puts off doing the parking tickets until the last goddamn minute! Or he was whittlin' a new hockey stick. Were you whittlin' a hockey stick, boy?" Stuckey notoriously made fun of Drew's obsession with hockey.
"C'mon Sheriff..." Drew whined.
"Y'know what'll cure that? Takin' that houseboat of yours up to Canada! Freeze your ass right off! Why can't you like baseball, like everybody else? It's normal for God's sakes!"
"C'mon Drew," Mike said. "I'll buy you breakfast. Dell, get me two breakfast fry-ups please."
"Comin' right up."
From her peripheral vision Charlotte watched the whole exchange by the bar, particularly Mike and Drew. Something was definitely off-kilter about their body language. They seemed to be stressing normalcy. Drew was genuinely exhausted, but something in the way he lifted his eyelids and how Mike sipped his coffee when Stuckey mentioned filing the parking tickets set off a bright red blip on her mental radar.
"Okay, we ready?" Charlotte announced to the crew seated behind the monitors.
"We're stylin'." Chris said.
"Ready!" Greta pulled away from spraying Leticia's hair. Leticia took her seat adjacent of the middle-aged man so she would be out of the shot.
"And action!" Greta snapped the scene marker.
"So, Mr. Wendell Griswold," Leticia said to the older man.
"That's me!" Wendell said bursting with enthusiasm.
"You were on the football team with Heath Davies?"
"Absolutely- GO LANCERS!" He pumped a fist into the air. Charlotte rolled her eyes.
"Tell me a little bit about the last time you saw your football team captain."
"Well, it was so long ago. Heath was a natural leader, and when the coach told us we had a strategy session none of us wanted to stay. But Heath stepped right in and would put us in a headlock if we tried walking out that locker room door. Then he'd throw us right down and make us do 200 pushups!"
"Take-charge kind of guy, huh?" Leticia asked Wendell.
"I'd say!" Wendell slapped a knee and laughed. "Well after practice we got lucky and didn't have any sessions to attend. So after we left the showers he started talkin' about this little party he was having up at Buxton Hall."
"And then?" Leticia pressed Wendell.
"Well I said, 'Buxton Hall? You don't know what's up there, Heath! Don't go!' He said I was just being a wet blanket and that everything would be fine. You couldn't stop a guy like Heath, once he had his mind set on something there was no stopping him."
"Did you know who he was going with?"
"No." Wendell shook his head. "He didn't name names, but he did say there were two girls involved. I didn't go out at all that night. Something told me to stay put."
"What do you mean by, 'Something told you'?" Leticia queried.
"Well, I'm part Indian Miss Mangione," Stuckey rolled his eyes and shook his head at Wendell's claim. "And I fancy myself pretty in tune with Mother Earth."
"About as in tune with the earth as that con of a dowser your uncle was." Stuckey mumbled hunched over his coffee.
"And there's an evil presence lurking in Buxton Hall." Wendell nodded his head adamantly. "I knew of it long before anyone got killed." He covered Leticia's hand with one of his own. "Don't ever go up there after dark or /alone/, Miss Mangione. No telling what could happen to a pretty one like yourself." Leticia gently detached Wendell's hand.
"I'll keep that in mind Wendell. Now why don't we move on so you could tell me what you know about Shelly-" The front door flew open and Eddie and Callie burst in with another young woman about their age behind them.
"Sorry we're late!" Eddie breathlessly declared.
"CUT!" Charlotte bellowed whipping off her headphones and dropped them to the floor. "You two! I sent you to pick up the keys to the manor at the realtor's an hour ago! What in hell were you doing, Eddie? Attracting a state trooper for a combat jack?" Mike nearly choked on his coffee and ended up spilling some on his lap. Dell handed him a clean rag to use. Charlotte glared at him before returning her attention on her quailing production assistants.
"Charlotte," Callie spoke up, "we're very sorry. We got held up at the office."
"Yeah! The Fanshaw bitch was chewing our ears off with her tales of Lifestyles of the Ripped Off and Stupid!" Eddie snorted.
"Eddie!" Callie shouted. "Watch your mouth!" Her eyes darted around the room to see if anyone heard.
"I dunno Dell; I'd say that's Meg dead-on." Stuckey sighed.
"That certainly is." Dell tutted.
"Who are you?" Charlotte asked the other young woman wearing a beige Copeland Realty blazer looking out of place.
"Excuse me," she said extending her hand to Charlotte, "I'm Jenny Alden." Charlotte shook Jenny's hand. "I'm a realtor with Copeland Realty. Meg Fanshaw's my boss. She sure is a chatterbox when it comes to strangers. Especially if they're from Hollywood."
"Well how do you do Jenny. So what are you here for?" Charlotte asked.
"Um, Miss Fanshaw," Jenny rooted through her purse, "wanted me to deliver these to you." She pulled out a set of keys Charlotte presumed belonged to Buxton Hall. "And tell to you that I'm free this afternoon to give you your preliminary tour."
"This afternoon?" Charlotte asked bewildered.
"This afternoon." Jenny happily parroted.
"I'm afraid we'll have to reschedule, Jenny. I'm sorry." Charlotte apologized.
"What do you mean?" Jenny's eagerness wilted like week-old lettuce.
"This afternoon we're interviewing several members of the victims' families and a number of their friends." Charlotte let her down as gently as possible. "These are very important right now, because our boss, the president of our film company needs to see some footage by the end of the week."
"So we can't go to the murder house?" Jenny asked looking like she just learned that there was no Santa Claus.
"Not today Jenny, but tomorrow as was originally planned," Charlotte shot lasers at her P.A.s, "would be ideal."
"But I can't. I'm showing these new condos up on Dartmouth Hill tomorrow." Jenny said. Charlotte threw up her hands in defeat. Could it get any worse?
"Why don't you let Chris act as second unit director, and you could go visit the slaughterhouse?" Leticia suggested.
"Chris doesn't have enough experience to be second unit director!" Charlotte argued. "That technically is your job."
"/Was /my job. Since you've decided to stick me with the role of Lois Lane (with no Tom Welling) you're just going to have to give it to Chris. Besides, he was second unit director for /Ecoterrorist/."
"That's because it was his story."
"Therefore he has all the experience he needs. We're U.F.O. Pictures baby, not United Artists!" There might have been a standoff between the two friends hadn't Mike interfered.
"I could drive you." Mike offered.
"Mr. Mayor!" Charlotte shrieked.
"Could you?" Leticia said. Jenny's face lit up again with stars in her eyes. "Thanks so much Mike! You're a lifesaver! Okay everybody, that's breakfast!" Leticia said and the crew dispersed seating themselves at tables signaling waiters for menus and coffee. Charlotte hooked the crook of Eddie's elbow with her hand.
"Don't think for one second, you're getting off the hook for this!" Leticia pushed Eddie into a seat and pulled Charlotte towards the bar.
"Why don't you relax and have some breakfast." She said to Charlotte and shoved her into the barstool beside Mike. "And then Mike here will be more than happy to take you on the guided tour."
"Leticia..." Charlotte growled.
"Oh my God!" Leticia saw Drew fast asleep on the bar and threw herself on him like a trench coat. "My poor little deputy! What's happened to Drew?"
"Parking tickets." Dell said.
"You had breakfast yet?" Mike asked Charlotte.
"If I stopped for breakfast, I'd be late for work." Charlotte rejected Dell's offer for coffee. "Thank you, I don't drink coffee." Mike turned her cup over.
"Get her some tea, Dell. And a breakfast fry-up put it on the tab."
"Miguel!" Dell shouted over the window. "One more breakfast fry-up!" A string of unintelligible words in Spanish softly followed.
"What's a fry-up?" Charlotte asked Mike.
"You'll find out in a little bit." Dell brought her some Lipton with lemon in it and Charlotte added a bit of sugar. Twenty minutes later Dell served them their fry-ups, two thick slices of deep-fried battered sourdough bread, scrambled eggs and bacon. Drew wasn't particularly conscious enough to eat his so Leticia helped herself.
"You make banana pancakes?" She asked Dell.
"We'll make fruit salad pancakes if you like, honey." Dell said.
"Great! Can I get a stack of those to go with this?"
"Miguel! Order of banana pancakes!"
Charlotte watched Leticia eat the fried toast with relish and then rest her elbow on the bar and surreptitiously nudged her knife off the edge. It hit the floor with a loud metallic clatter.
"Oh God!" Charlotte dismounted her stool to reach it.
"That's okay, honey!" Dell said.
"No, Dell. I have it." Charlotte said.
"Let me get you a new one."
"Thanks." Charlotte reached around to scratch the back of her neck. She tapped it twice with her index and middle fingers. Charlotte was certain Leticia saw. It had been their private signal since high school. Charlotte excused herself and went into the ladies room, after three minutes Leticia joined her.
"Okay, what's your problem now?" Leticia asked Charlotte bent over the sink washing her hands.
"There is definitely something up with the mayor and Doug Gilmore back there."
"Well, I don't know about Drew but Mikey's definitely hot to trot for you."
"I'm serious, Tish."
"What is up with you and these sudden conspiracy theories?" Leticia pulled a couple of paper towels from the white tin wall dispenser and dried her hands. "I've never seen you this paranoid over a guy before Charlotte, and this is you we're talking about."
"Listen to me," Charlotte said, "I need you to do something."
"While I'm out sightseeing with Captain Amazing and Raggedy Ann, I need you to go to the library and look through every Eden Courier newspaper and look for anything relevant involving Red Beauregard."
"Every newspaper?! In the library?!" Leticia's voice was loud enough to carry and Charlotte slapped both hands over her mouth.
"Will you keep it down?! Goddammit!" Charlotte dropped her hands from her friend's face. "The only reason why I'm asking you to use the library is that we only got a free trial search on the newspaper's website- which we used- or we'll have to order a subscription. If you can't download and print the articles without a library card get the librarian to get you the hard copies and you make photo copies of them."
"And how do you expect me to fulfill my deadline with these interviews hanging over my head, Mr. Murrow?" Leticia asked. Charlotte spun Leticia around by the shoulders and steered her to the door.
"You can go when you're done for the day. It shouldn't take you that long." Leticia and Charlotte casually walked out of the bathroom and returned to their breakfasts.