When Sylvia's granddaughter asks her about an old notebook with newspaper clippings, it takes her back to her reporter days in the free-for-all sixties.
The shout, coming from somewhere at the other end of my spacious house, woke me out of my afternoon nap. Groggy and annoyed, I wasn’t about to strain my vocal chords by answering it. When several seconds of silence ensued I closed my eyes again, hoping it was a one-time event.
I had no sooner settled back into my reclining chair in front of my north-facing windows overlooking the great city of Los Angeles when I heard the thunder of running footsteps approaching, followed by the emergence of my teenage granddaughter, Abby, into the living room. She came dashing up to my chair, her dark hair streaming behind her and her dark eyes flashing.
I glanced at her short shorts, her T-shirt with the generous scoop she had cut out at the neck, and the toenails on her bare feet painted some garish red color, and I thought, not for the first time, how much she reminded me of myself at her age. Then I noticed what she was carrying: an old, three-ring binder, somewhat the worse for wear, I thought I’d securely hidden in the back of one of my desk drawers. How had she found it?
I was fortunate, or unfortunate, depending on one’s point of view, that my daughter and her husband had amassed enough money to afford to buy a house in Palos Verdes, less than a mile from mine. Since they both worked, Abby often came to my house after school. She sometimes spent the night with me when her parents were traveling, so I’d allotted her a bedroom where she hung out, doing homework or texting, and, hopefully, not sexting, her friends—if she did I didn’t want to know about it—but today she’d apparently been in my study.
“Grandma, what’s this?”
I played dumb. “Just some old notebook. Where did you find it?”
“It’s got newspaper articles in it from…” she opened it “…nineteen-sixty. This headline reads, ‘Playmate Wife of Los Angeles Goats Owner Murdered.’ Who were the Los Angeles Goats?”
“They were a professional football team that used to play in Los Angeles. Be careful; you’ll tear the pages. Here, I’ll take it.”
I held out my hand. Abby pulled back and danced just out of my reach, continuing to read. “The article was written by Sylvia Booker. Wasn’t your maiden name Booker? This is you, isn’t it? I didn’t know you were a newspaper reporter.”
There were a number of things she didn’t know about me. I made a determined effort to stand, but my arthritis slowed me down, and Abby easily avoided my grab for the notebook. She leafed through the pages and read another headline.
“‘Sexual Shenanigans May Have Led to Murder of Honey Hutchings.’ Grandma, were you writing about sex? I thought the sexual revolution started later in the sixties.”
I might not be as spry as Abby, but I still walked my four miles a day and worked out at the gym. I moved faster than she thought I could and whooshed the notebook out of her hands so quickly you could hear the wind my arm-speed created. She stared at me, a hurt and surprised look on her face. I tried to regain control of myself.
Heretofore, we hadn’t spoken to each other about sex. Heretofore, we hadn’t had any deep conversations. I didn’t want to start now, especially in this context. But perhaps I didn’t have a choice. Perhaps it was time. If I didn’t, she’d go running to her mother, my daughter, Eliza, and skeletons might start popping out of the closet.
Maybe I could tell the story to Abby in such a way that the skeletons would stay hidden.
“Sit down, Abby. I’ve got some family history to share with you.”
Abby sat. I sat back down on the recliner and raised the footrest. Where to begin? Perhaps at the beginning.
“I graduated from UCLA in 1960 with a major in English. I needed a job, but I didn’t want to be a teacher or a secretary. Through a connection with a family friend I was offered a job as reporter for the Los Angeles Bugle, a newspaper that has long since gone to newspaper heaven. My boss was the City Editor, a man named Les Brighton. At first, he put me in the Society section with the ladies who wore fancy hats and reported on charitable events sponsored by the wives of philanthropists.”
“That sounds deadly boring.”
“It was. I’m afraid I didn’t fit in very well, and that almost got me fired. Les didn’t know what to do with me. Then he called me one Friday morning, early, at my apartment in Echo Park, near downtown Los Angeles.”
I closed my eyes and could still picture the one-room pad with the funny smell and the bed that disappeared into the wall during the day.
“Hello, Booker? It’s Brighton. Have you got anything going on this morning?”
“Well, I was going to talk to—”
“Cancel it. You wanted some action; I’m going to give it to you. Do you know who the Los Angeles Goats are?”
“Uh, they’re a football team—”
“At least you’re not completely ignorant. Honey Hutchings, the wife of the Goats’ owner, Lazlo Hutchings, was murdered last night. I just got the word; my best reporters are tied up, so I’m giving you the assignment. I want you to drive out to the Hutchings home as fast as possible and get me a story for the first edition.”
Les gave me some basic information and hung up. The Bugle was an afternoon newspaper, but the first edition had to be put to bed before noon, so I was on deadline. I threw on a skirt and blouse and stockings in a daze.
Honey Hutchings. What did I know about her? I tried to get my brain in gear. I remembered she’d married the owner of the Los Angeles Goats football team several years before. It had been big news, especially because his first wife had divorced him and named Honey as the reason. Oh, yes, she’d also been a Playboy Playmate of the Year, or something like that.
I remembered another tidbit. I’d read an article about Honey that said she enjoyed mingling with the fans at Goats football games in the Los Angeles Coliseum—and they loved her.
I fixed myself a cup of instant coffee and grabbed a stale roll before jumping into my ancient VW Beetle and heading west from my apartment on Sunset Boulevard toward Beverly Hills, cursing the commuter traffic. The first thing I’d learned as a reporter was how to curse.
When I finally arrived at the street where the Hutchings mansion was located, I couldn’t find a place to park. It looked as if every police officer in Beverly Hills and every reporter in Southern California had preceded me there. I squeezed my small car behind another car a hundred yards away from the house, only partially blocking a driveway, and hurried toward the would-be palace with its soaring Greek columns that reminded me of the Parthenon in Athens.
Just before I got there I passed a woman standing beside her snazzy red sports car, a Maserati, I think, parked in the street. She was glaring at the side of the car that had clearly been sideswiped, and she was livid.
I stopped for a moment beside her, always looking for a story. “Did this just happen?”
“I’m not sure; the god-awful hubbub made by all the cops and everybody woke me. I took a sleeping pill, but I woke again when the reporters started arriving. I came out of my house and found it damaged. This is usually a very quiet street; today it’s a madhouse. I just heard that Honey was murdered. I knew there would be trouble when that blonde hussy married Hutch. My husband will kill me. I should have put it in the garage last night.”
Of the two events, she was clearly more upset by her car being damaged. I got her name, and then she climbed into the car and started the engine, intending to lock the barn door after the horse had been stolen. I scribbled down her comment about Honey and walked on another few feet to the Hutchings mansion.
I arrived in time for a press conference in the long, U-shaped driveway, held by the Beverly Hills Chief of Police. The larger, mostly male, reporters were blocking my view, so I squeezed my way forward, smiling and apologizing as I went. I encountered frowns, a surreptitious feel, and muttered words not fit for our family newspaper. There wasn’t any such thing as chivalry in this business.
The Chief started speaking into a battery of microphones, looking very grave and pompous.
“We received a call from the Hutchings residence at four thirty-six a.m., saying that Mrs. Hutchings had been found on her bed, bloody and unresponsive. The caller is a housekeeper who lives in the house, Bertha Washington. She rose early and found the door of the Hutchings’ bedroom open. We dispatched patrol units, paramedics, and an ambulance to the scene. Mrs. Hutchings was dead when they arrived.”
He gave some other information, none of it very helpful. All the reporters were waving their hands and shouting questions. The Chief chose them one by one and gave brief answers. The probable cause of death was stabbing. She had a number of wounds. No murder weapon had been found. Mr. Hutchings was out of town on a business trip. A window of the house had been broken. There were no suspects at the present time.
The Chief introduced a man named Jack Talley, who was Vice President of Operations for the Los Angeles Goats. He was big, and looked like the ex-football player he was. He expressed the grief of the staff and players of the football team. He said that Mr. Hutchings, known as Hutch to the world, was also grief-stricken and was returning to Los Angeles as fast as possible. He would be back that afternoon.
Mr. Talley took questions. I made a few notes in my spiral notebook, but I wasn’t convinced we were hearing everything. Something Les had said jogged my memory. I raised my hand, but I didn’t know whether I’d be noticed amid the raucous male reporters. Finally, I caught the eye of Mr. Talley, and he pointed at me.
“The little lady with the sensible hair.”
Some of the male reporters guffawed. I ignored the condescending tone, probably used because I refused to wear my hair in a bouffant, a style that needed much care and hair spray, and invited spiders to make their homes on one’s scalp.
“Isn’t it true that Mrs. Hutchings had a management position with the Goats?”
Mr. Talley looked surprised. Apparently, this wasn’t common knowledge. I was glad my boss had inside information. He hesitated before he spoke.
“I don’t think the organization of our football team is relevant at this time. As the Chief has stated, Mrs. Hutchings was probably killed by a prowler she caught in the house.”
The Chief had not specifically stated that. Several of the other reporters growled, “Answer the question.” I was glad I was getting support from my colleagues. Mr. Talley continued to evade, but the rumbling grew louder. He finally raised his hands in a give-up gesture.
“A year ago Mrs. Hutchings was named Director of Player Personnel. In this position it was her responsibility to coordinate with our scouts in the field, be active in the college player draft, assist in salary negotiation, and help to negotiate trades with other teams.”
The way Mr. Talley spoke made it clear he was trying to give the impression that this was an honorary position. He went into some detail about his own involvement in these areas. He avoided answering a question about why this information hadn’t been made public before.
The press conference ended soon thereafter. I rushed to my car, as did every other reporter present. I had to get to a pay phone and dictate my story to the man we called Doc, who sat at a typewriter in the Editorial Room all day, writing down stories from reporters in the field. He typed with great speed, using only two fingers. He was a fixture at the Bugle.
When I saw the parking ticket on my windshield I was upset. Didn’t the Beverly Hills cops have anything better to do—such as solve the murder of Honey Hutchings? I wondered whether I could put it on my expense account. I threw it on the passenger seat, started the car, and drove toward downtown Beverly Hills, in search of a phone booth.
“How did your boss like the story you wrote?”
Abby’s question brought me back to the present. I did a quick mental review of what I’d been telling her. Had I said anything I shouldn’t have? I didn’t think so. Not yet, anyway.
“It was a basic article, but he liked the fact that I was able to file it in time for the first edition. When I reached him on the phone, he told me to keep working on the story. I was pleased, because it was the first big story I’d been assigned. He told me to try to get an interview with Hutch Hutchings. I knew Hutch wouldn’t be in LA until late that afternoon, so I probably wouldn’t be able to speak to him until the next day. But I soon had another idea.”
I hesitated, not knowing whether I should continue. Abby’s eyes were big and focused on mine. I had her full attention, something difficult to obtain from a teenager. I decided this was part of her family history, and she should know about it.
“Have you heard of Playboy Magazine?”
Abbey gave me a how-dumb-do-you-think-I-am look and said, “Everybody’s heard of Playboy. You already said Honey was a Playmate. Did she have big boobs? In the pictures I saw of her in your notebook they look big.”
“Well, they were…generous. She was also very attractive. Her name suited her because she was a honey blonde. Anyway, I was talking to one of our other staffers on the phone to try to figure out what to do next when he told me he’d just pulled a story off the teletype machine that quoted Hugh Hefner, the head of Playboy, about Honey’s murder. The story said Mr. Hefner was in Los Angeles for the day—this was before there was a Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles—and mentioned he was attending an event at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.”
I thanked him and quickly hung up. I was, at that very moment, just three blocks from the Beverly Hilton Hotel. I figured not many people had made a connection between Honey’s murder and Hugh Hefner yet. The quote from Hef had been obtained by phone. I left my car where it was and walked to the hotel. On the way I tried to fluff up my hair and make sure my stocking seams were straight. Hef looked at beautiful girls for a living, and I didn’t want to be found lacking.
As I went into the lobby I got cold feet. How would I be able to get to Mr. Hefner? Would I get thrown out? In those days I wasn’t bad looking, and I had a certain…firmness about me. I unbuttoned a few buttons on my blouse, went to the concierge desk, and gave my best smile to a man in uniform.
“Hi. Can you help me? I’m supposed to be meeting with Hef—er, Hugh Hefner—and I’ve lost the card with the information on it.”
He took pity on the damsel in distress and pointed out the room where the event involving Mr. Hefner was being held. I thanked him with another smile and set out to find the room. As I walked through the doorway my feet froze again. The room was filled with beautiful women with great bodies, gorgeous hairdos, and fabulous clothes.
I obviously didn’t belong there. I almost turned around and marched out.
Then I caught a glimpse of Mr. Hefner. He was sitting at a table in the center of the room, smoking a pipe. He was still young and handsome in those days, but more important, he had a kindly look on his face. In spite of his reputation as a lady’s man, I had the distinct impression that he was a nice guy. He also looked sad.
Without me willing it, my feet walked toward him. As luck would have it, he was alone for a moment. I went to him and started speaking before I knew what I was going to say.
“Mr. Hefner, my name is Sylvia Booker. I’m a reporter for the Los Angeles Bugle. I wanted to tell you how sorry I am about Honey.”
Mr. Hefner’s eyes turned toward me. At first, they seemed to look right through me. Then he appeared to focus.
“Thank you. Honey was one of my favorite girls. Have a seat. What did you say your name is?”
“Sylvia. This is supposed to be a happy gathering today, but I can’t enjoy it.”
I had him to myself for twenty minutes. He told me Honey had become a Playmate right out of college where she’d been an honor student. She was one of the smartest Playmates ever to grace the pages of the magazine. I asked him whether she was capable of doing the job she had been given with the Goats. He said that in his opinion she was probably better than Jack Talley, who he had met.
After I’d asked him a number of questions, he asked me one. “Have you ever considered doing some modeling?”
I didn’t believe he was serious. “I thought Playmates have to be blonde.”
He smiled. “I don’t want that to be a stereotype. We’re looking for all kinds of girls.”
“Did you do it?”
The question brought me back to the present again. I stared at Abby. What had I been telling her? Then I remembered.
“Of course not. Good girls didn’t do things like that.”
“In today’s world good girls do whatever they want.”
I decided not to comment on that statement.
“Well, I was a long-shot, and I already had a good job. But let me tell you what happened next. As I was leaving the hotel I saw a couple of the reporters who had been at the Hutchings residence, trying to get in to see Hef. The concierge was stonewalling them. I waved at the boys as I left the hotel. I filed a story on my exclusive interview with Hef. My boss was pleased.”
According to the police, the chief suspect in Honey’s murder was an unknown intruder who had broken into the house and been discovered by her. They didn’t have answers as to why the burglar alarm didn’t go off, or why there was no evidence of an intruder other than the broken window. Honey’s bedroom was on the second floor, and nothing in the house was out of place or missing. I thought the police were hiding something—perhaps their ineptness.
There was some speculation that the ex-wife of Lazlo “Hutch” Hutchings still had a key to the house and might have done it. Someone even suggested that Hutch had grown tired of Honey and hired someone to kill her while he was out of town, supplying the murderer with a key and information about shutting off the alarm.
The next day, Saturday, I was able to get an interview with Mr. Hutchings. He was a vibrant and handsome man in his late forties, with dark hair and eyes, although on that particular day he was distraught and grieving. I hadn’t learned to be tactful yet, and I asked him point-blank whether he had paid someone to kill Honey while he was out of town. That almost got me thrown out of his office.
When he calmed down he said, “Sorry about that. I’ve heard the rumors too. I’m just so broken up about Honey I can’t think straight. Honey was the best thing that ever happened to me. Everybody loved her.”
Apparently, not everybody. “What about your ex-wife?”
He smiled grimly. “Yes, she was an exception. But she was also a shrew. We didn’t divorce because of Honey, despite what the newspapers said. I just couldn’t live with her. I suspect you want to know the same thing the police asked me. Could she have done this? The answer is no. She might have wanted to, but she didn’t have the guts, the drive, or whatever it takes, to carry it out.”
“I understand Mrs. Hutchings had the title, Director of Player Personnel, within your organization. Since that wasn’t public knowledge, I assume she was more than just a figurehead.”
“She certainly was. She streamlined our organization and helped us sign and retain some of our best players. She was also very popular with the fans. She’d go up and down the stands, shaking hands with them, during the games. She has left a huge hole, not only in my life, but in the Los Angeles Goats. I don’t know what I’m going to do without her.”
“When I heard Jack Talley speak, he made it sound as if he did most of her work.”
“Jack never fully accepted Honey. I guess he’s too old-school. He doesn’t believe women have a place in men’s sports. But I think they were getting along better the past few months.”
“Was Honey’s murder ever solved?”
I had to quit being drawn into my narrative so much, to the exclusion of reality. I might say something I’d regret. I was glad Abby was taking such an interest in my past, however. I felt we were bonding.
“You’re getting ahead of my story. My boss liked the articles I was writing, and told me to keep pursuing the case. What we weren’t getting was a solid suspect. The police appeared to be floundering. It became common knowledge, partially thanks to me, that Honey had been instrumental in the back-office operation of the team, which brought adoration from the masses and derision from a few. Honey became more of a celebrity in death than she had been in life, only eclipsed by Marilyn Monroe who died two years later.”
The rumor mill kept speculating about the murderer, suggesting everyone from Hugh Hefner to a quarterback who had been traded away from the Goats in a deal Honey had been instrumental in making. The mystery helped to keep the case in the headlines and the newspapers to keep selling.
Hutch invited me to sit in his owner’s box for the Sunday game at the Coliseum. I jumped at the opportunity. I had never even been to a professional football game before, let alone sat in a box, so I was thrilled just to be there. It also meant I was able to meet other people in his organization.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I arrived at the Coliseum. There were flowers everywhere around the entrance. Huge bouquets of colorful blooms; dozens of them. The people of Los Angeles really did love Honey. I stopped and admired them for several minutes.
When I arrived at the owner’s box, Hutch introduced me to several people on his staff. I looked for Jack Talley, wanting to ask him some more questions, but he wasn’t there. I chatted with a few people, but I realized I wouldn’t really learn anything new as long as Hutch was within earshot.
When I saw a woman I’d met at his office, named Edith, who was Hutch’s secretary, I got the impression she was different from the others. She had been with the team since before Hutch had purchased it, and wasn’t in awe of him. She used the excuse that the cheering of the other people in the box and the nearby fans made listening difficult, and beckoned me to follow her to a back corner where it was easier for us to talk without shouting and without other people hearing us. She spoke about Honey’s influence.
“Honey was able to convince our quarterback, Brad Schmeltzer, to sign with the team right out of college. We’d picked him in the draft. At first, he balked at signing and asked to be traded, but after a couple of one-on-one sessions with Honey, he signed. Honey had talents nobody else on the staff of the Goats had. She had what I would call unique methods of persuasion.”
Edith’s tone of voice hinted at more than she was saying. I looked down at the field where Brad was in the process of throwing a touchdown pass to one of the team’s receivers. Even from that far away I could see how tall and manly he was. I asked Edith if I could get an interview with Brad. She said she’d fix it up for me.
We met the next day, after football practice, at a bar near the Coliseum. Brad was every bit as tall and handsome as his pictures had indicated. We sat in a booth. He had a beer and I had a margarita. I lobbed some softball questions at him about how he liked being on the Goats. He said he was enjoying it very much. The Goats were a good team with players he respected. It sounded like the company line. I decided to dig a little deeper.
“I understand Honey was instrumental in getting you to sign with the Goats.”
“You could say that.”
Brad flashed his best public-relations smile at me, the one I was sure he used with fans and reporters alike. It said he knew he was a star, and it was all right for us mortals to worship him and bow before his pedestal. I nearly fell under his spell. I probably shouldn’t be drinking the margarita. I tried to keep myself centered so I could ask him questions.
“Could you be more specific about how Honey persuaded you to sign with the Goats?”
Brad’s smile had a leering quality this time.
“Honey and I connected. We were simpatico. She was the essence of willingness to give of herself. She convinced me my future was with the Goats. If everyone was like her the world would be a better place. I’m going to miss her.”
He said the last with a faraway look in his eyes, but I got the impression his grief didn’t have the same quality as the grief of Hutch and many other people. Brad ordered another beer, and the waitress asked me if I wanted another margarita. I reacted quickly.
“No, thank you. One is plenty.”
At that point I just wanted to get out of there with my virtue intact.
“Well, did you?”
“Did I what?”
I looked at Abby in horror and tried to remember what I’d just been saying. I had to quit zoning out like this.
“Did you get out of there with your virtue intact?”
“Listen, young lady, virtue isn’t something to be flippant about.”
“Well, Brad was obviously making it with Honey, and I bet he wanted to make it with you too. I’ve seen pictures of you when you were young. You were a babe. I want to look like you.”
She already did, for better or for worse. I’d obviously connected with Abby, but had I connected in the wrong way?
“Listen, I’ve talked enough about my past. Don’t you need to text someone or check your Facebook?”
I made a furtive and unsuccessful grab for the notebook, which Abby had somehow retrieved from me while I’d been talking.
“Not until you tell me the rest of the story. Then I’ll really have something to put on Facebook. What happened next?”
Where was the limited attention span modern children were supposed to have? Abby was waiting for me to continue, and it was obvious she wasn’t going anywhere. I took a deep breath and promised myself I would be careful what I said from now on.
The police were still trying to put all the pieces together, and so was I. I kept submitting stories to Les, and he kept telling me to write more. The circulation of the Bugle was soaring, and I liked to think it was because of my coverage of Honey’s murder.
I was able to get an interview with Jack Talley, the Vice President of Operations for the Goats. At first he’d avoided me, probably because I was the one who had forced him to talk about Honey’s position in the Goats’ organization when he was trying to hide it. In addition, my stories about Honey’s involvement in the operations of the team had probably rubbed him the wrong way, because she had accomplished things he liked to claim credit for.
It got to the point where he couldn’t ignore me anymore, because my stories were so popular with the reading public. Everybody remembered Honey, and
Talley wasn’t getting any press at all.
We met in his office on a sunny morning. He sat behind his large desk, keeping it between us as a barrier.
He had a glass of a dark liquid sitting on the desk in front of him. He asked me if I wanted a drink.
I’d learned my lesson with Brad. I asked him how things had been going in the Goats’ office since Honey’s murder.
“It’s business as usual. Of course, we miss Honey, but most of what we do here was done without Honey’s involvement, so there hasn’t been any change in that respect.”
He said this with a straight face. Maybe he hadn’t read my stories about Honey’s unique management style. I suspected he had, but he was still singing the same tune. I’d come with some prepared questions I wasn’t completely sure I was going to ask, but he was pissing me off, and I figured this was a no-holds-barred contest.
“Mr. Talley, I’d like to ask you some things about the night of Honey’s murder?”
“What kind of things?” He glowered at me.
“Oh, where you were, what you were doing, things like that.”
“The police already asked me those questions. I’ve got nothing to hide.”
“Good. Then this will be easy. First, where were you between midnight and three a.m. the night of Honey’s murder?”
“This is bullshit. I was at my home in Bel Air working on the projected roster of players for the next couple of years.”
“But, as I recall, nobody could confirm you were doing that. You’re divorced and you live by yourself. That must be very lonely for you.”
“I made some phone calls from my home phone. It’s a matter of record.”
“I’ve seen the record. You made several calls between nine and eleven that could be confirmed. Nothing after that.”
“I went to bed. Maybe you reporters don’t sleep, but I have to.”
I consulted my notes. “Two of the calls were to the home where Hutch and Honey lived.”
“All right, so what?”
“Hutch was out of town on business, so you must have talked to Honey.”
“Yeah, well she was part of the organization. We talked all the time. What’s wrong with that?”
Now he was changing his tune. “One call was over thirty minutes long. You must have had a lot to discuss. That’s interesting, since she was not a major factor in running the team.”
If Talley didn’t like me before, he hated me now. He pulled a big cigar out of a humidor on his desk and took his time about lighting it. Then he took a big puff and blew out a cloud of smoke, almost making me cough. Was he trying to create a smokescreen between us? I was waiting for him to say something more. I could have waited all night. I decided to launch into my next step, which was about eighty-percent speculation.
“When Honey wanted to take a job with the team you were opposed to it. Initially, Hutch was on your side. But when Honey started giving you sexual favors you relented—with the provision that her job and her title would remain confidential within the organization. Honey agreed because she wasn’t looking for publicity—she already had enough of that—she wanted to do something useful.”
I paused, in case Talley wanted to say something. He kept puffing on his cigar, making the air between us darker and darker. Soon he would disappear altogether. I coughed and moved my chair a few feet back from his desk before I continued.
“This cozy arrangement lasted for a number of months, but when Honey started piling up accomplishments, she knew she no longer needed your approval to keep the job. Hutch was now backing her. So she cut you off.”
Talley was coughing, great racking coughs. He put out the cigar and tried to catch his breath. I went over to the outside window and opened it. When I returned to my seat Talley was trying to regain his composure.
“Those are the natterings of a bitch schoolgirl still wet behind the ears. Nobody’s going to believe you.”
“Why else would you make a thirty-plus minute call to Honey at ten-thirty at night? You were trying to change her mind, and probably threatening her as well. One thing I’ve discovered in covering this story is that Honey had an effect on all men. You weren’t the exception. She wouldn’t relent. I talked to Bertha, the Hutchings’ housekeeper, just before I came here. She remembered your calls from that night; she answered the phone. She told me you sounded funny, as if you’d been drinking. You were slurring your words.”
Talley was in the process of taking a drink from his glass. He slammed it down on his desktop so hard I thought it was going to break. It didn’t, but now I was sure I had all the pieces to the puzzle.
“You were drinking that night. After a while, you got in your car and drove to Honey’s house. You had a key she’d given you for trysts when Hutch was out of town, so you had no problem getting inside. Of course, you know the layout of the house, and you were able to get in and out without disturbing Bertha. But you slipped up.
“Next time you break a window to make it look like a break-in, break it from the outside, so that the broken glass will fall on the inside. A police officer finally admitted to me that talking about a break-in was just a cover-up for not having a viable suspect. In addition, you were drunk enough that you sideswiped a parked car when you pulled away—a red car. I checked your car in the parking garage. It has red paint on it.”
At least, in the dim light of the garage it had looked red. I watched Talley to see what his reaction would be.
He muttered, “You’re too nosy for your own good.”
When he opened a desk drawer and reached his hand inside I panicked. I jumped up and ran toward the door of the office. As I went through the doorway a deafening shot rang out behind me, and slivers from the wood of the door frame flew off and showered me. I ran along the carpeted hallway. The first office I came to was Hutch’s.
He was on his feet when I entered his office, apparently going to investigate the shot. I ran into his arms and cried out.
“Talley’s trying to kill me.”
At that moment, Talley came into the office, the gun in his hand. Hutch shielded me from him with his own body. Talley tried to point the gun at me. His hand was shaking.
Hutch spoke to him. I couldn’t believe how calm he was.
“All right, Jack, the party’s over. I know everything. Put down the gun.”
Talley kept waving the gun, instead. Hutch continued to speak in a soothing voice. Little by little, he calmed Talley down while I peeked over Hutch’s shoulder and trembled. I have never seen anyone do anything so brave.
“Grandma, that’s a good story. I’m glad you didn’t get shot, because I might not be here if you had. Was Talley convicted of murder?”
“Yes, he was.”
Once, again, I was thrust back to the present. I was happy to get the seal of approval from my granddaughter. Abby was still leafing through the notebook. It was too late to get it away from her, although my hands were itching to try.
She stopped and looked intently at one article; I couldn’t see which one. She raised her eyes to mine.
“Do you know that Eric looks exactly like this picture of Hutch?”
Eric was her older brother. I desperately wanted to downplay this.
“Lots of people look alike.”
“Were you going with Grandpa at this time?”
“I met him sometime after Honey was killed.”
“If I recall my dates correctly, you got married a year after all this happened, and Mom was born about nine months after that—about.”
Why did I have to have a granddaughter with a photographic memory?
“We’ve been studying DNA in school. Maybe Mom and Aunt Betty should get DNA tests to see if they have the same father.”
“Maybe you should mind your own business, young lady.” She had just been admitted to Stanford University. “How would you like to have your college education paid for, so that you wouldn’t have to take out any loans?”
“I’d like that.” Abby thought for a minute, frowning, and then spoke slowly. “This is a shock, but maybe being descended from Hutch Hutchings isn’t such a bad thing.”
“Hutch finally became reconciled to the fact that Honey was never exclusively his, but belonged to the world. He never married again, but he became open to new possibilities.”
Abby gave me a hug. I returned it after a few seconds.
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