Clara scolded me for staying up until three in the morning reading Grace’s journal. When I related the story she admitted it would have been difficult to put down. Grace said it better than I could so I’ll copy it here.
“I went to Charleston to see the girl who claims to be pregnant with Chase’s baby. Pretty girl, who doesn’t seem to be a con artist or anything like that. Tough background from what she told me. Poor, abused, tossed about among relatives who didn’t want her. She wants to be an actress. Definitely has the voice, personality, and looks.
“Turned the facts over to a private investigative firm. I think she was truthful with me, but I want to be sure.”
Grace didn’t write in her journal every day. Often would miss a week or more. About ten days later I found this entry.
“Back to Charleston to meet with the investigators and with Bertha afterwards. They verified her background, and said they didn’t find any other males who could be the father. I feel confident it is Chase’s. She’s not asked for anything. That’s in her favor. She said she never considered an abortion. That’s in her favor. Said it would be nice if Chase and his family could help her with the medical bills. Plans on giving up the baby for adoption. She obviously doesn’t know how well off we are. I’ll see our lawyers tomorrow. The child will come to Sea Breeze right after birth.”
Another entry was made after she met with the family law firm.
“Everything’s arranged. They wanted to send a lawyer with me to see the girl, but I refused. Oddly, I’m rather elated about having a grandchild. Strange when I chose to have only the one child.
“The girl will go to a retired aunt of mine in Arizona. After the child is born and the legal papers signed, she will have enough money to go to a good Acting Academy. A few doors will be opened for her, and if she truly has some talent, and I think she does, her career will be launched.
“Even though the girl is theatrical, I think her tears of relief and gratitude were genuine. She’ll give us no trouble. If she has needs in the future, she will be reasonable. I am a good judge of character.”
Journal Entry: Morning
Some have asked if I am excited about having a story. I’ll admit I am, but I am more excited about finding the truth. I would want to know, regardless. Having a story is an excitement all of it own for a reporter. But alas, having a story and documenting the story can be two different things.
You guys and gals are sharp. I know you have it figured out. A congressman, in his mid-fifties, had an affair with a young movie star. The ambassador was younger and was moving in on her, or else the ambassador knew what was going on and was threatening to cause problems. So the starlet and the ambassador were silenced. Maybe she was pregnant, maybe she was pressing Brighton to divorce his wife. Maybe the ambassador was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Lots of maybes, but it has to be something along those lines. Certainly not a new story. Happens every now and then. Whatever it was, Martin somehow found out about it.
Rumors of Brighton’s association with gangsters persisted for years. I’m sure it wouldn’t have been difficult for him to arrange the deaths of people who could tarnish his image. Tarnishing his image appeals to me. Even if it never goes to trial, I admit, destroying the legacy of a man who had people murdered, would give me great pleasure.
Now I will read from Grace’s diary, a passage that applies to Ms. LaBelle.
“The baby was born three days ago. A boy. An easy birth—the mid-wife said. Chase and I decided on Brandon Charles. Brandon for my grandfather, and Charles for Chase and Fritz. Aunt Nettie said the mother refused to hold him. Just as well, perhaps.
“I’ll go the first of the week to bring him home to Sea Breeze. I need to have a little talk with Bertha, who from this point on will be referred to as Sandra. Want to be sure all of the details of the contract are clear, and I intend to advise her about birth control. This mistake turned out well, but another pregnancy in her life could destroy it. Wouldn’t bother except I rather like the girl. Plus, I’m investing in her future and I only make good investments.”
And fourteen days later, Grace wrote:
“Brandon is a good baby. I was going to hire a nurse, but Chase and I get along fine with Bonnie’s help. I’ve insisted Chase take responsibility for his care. After work he is in charge and he gets up for the two o’clock feeding. Chase takes it well. Threatened once to hire a nurse, but I told him I would take Wednesday night, and Bonnie volunteered for Sunday night. As I explained to Chase, it is important that he bond with the boy since he is the only parent. I think it is working, as I peeped into the nursery the other night and saw him feeding Brandon. He had his cheek pressed against the baby’s head, and he hummed softly in his ear.
“Brandon resembles Chase, but he has Hector’s chin with the deep dimple. It reminds me of how much I loved Hector and what a good man he was. Brandon will grow to be a good man, like his father and grandfathers. And like the men in my group of friends; Fritz, Martin and Abe.
“Suzette arranged a lovely tea and baby welcoming. Suzette always does things so elegantly. A baby welcoming instead of a shower, only Suzette would think of that. Entertaining and cooking are her specialties, but she really outdid herself this time. Prepared everything herself except the scones. She asked Colleen to make the scones. I’m sure she could have made them just as well herself, but she wanted to make Colleen feel special. Said only Colleen could put the Irish in them. Suzette always makes people feel special. Fritz is a fortunate man.”
And your humble reader pauses here, and wipe a tear from his eye. I have, indeed been a fortunate man.
Ben and I went to Charleston to see Brighton’s old adversary, Philip Farrell. He ran against Brighton numerous times. Never even came close to winning. As I said before, Brighton is South Carolina’s favorite son. Farrell graciously consented to see us, even though he still maintains a heavy schedule. His two sons, and a daughter are listed as law partners, but it doesn’t take long to see he’s still in control.
Ben and I make a good team. For a time Ben sat munching on cookies and drinking coffee while we chatted. Didn’t appear to be paying attention, but he was.
Farrell uses colorful language. Called Brighton, a bloodsucking, son of a carpetbagger. Said he was a scoundrel, a descendant of scoundrels, not fit to be on God’s earth, and worst of all, the son of a Yankee. Powerful words.
Later in the conversation, the real source of his dislike of Brighton became clear.
It seems Brighton married Farrell’s second cousin. Not only does Farrell hate the man, but he has to eat turkey with him every Thanksgiving. Says his cousin Charlotte Lee, member of the DAR, and a decedent of Robert E. Lee, not only deserves better, but she blindly loves the man.
Farrell was wound so tight I decided to drop Sandra LaBelle’s name. First, I glanced at Ben. He was brushing cookie crumbs off his slacks, but I could see his brain was in tape recorder mode. I like that boy.
So I just asked. Always found being direct the best approach. At the mention of her name the man popped out of his chair faster that a pastry pops from a toaster. It was a bit humorous and I noted Ben stifle a grin. Once he was on his feet he visibly calmed himself and walked slowly (I had the feeling he wanted to run) to a filing cabinet. He took a thick file folder out of his cabinet and plopped it on his desk. It landed with a loud thud.
“I personally investigated the rumors for twenty-five years. What’s your interest?”
I told him my story in a nutshell. Stuck to the facts.
He fell back into his desk chair, pursed his lips and nodded his head. “Take the file. I’ve got backups. Not a bit of proof in it, but read it carefully.” He looked at his watch, stood, and offered his hand. I took his hand and he held it a moment in a firm grip.
I took that as a dismissal, put the file under my arm, nodded at Ben, and we left.
In the car, Ben opened his PC and recorded every word spoken, noting facial expressions, tone of voice, and every gesture. Had me read it at lunch and it is as accurate as film would be. Boy’s amazing. He’s going places.
This morning I awoke reaching for Suzette’s hand. That happened a lot for months after she passed away, but it was the first time in a while. The sadness is overwhelming. I’ve grown so comfortable talking to Clara that I mentioned it to her. Her eyes filled with tears and she said the same thing had happened to her. She will awake, reach for her husband’s hand, and then cry when she realizes he isn’t there. Somehow it reminded me of Martin’s wife Judy. Having lost a husband defending our country, she once told Suzette she had thought she would never love again. She was so grateful to have found Martin. Judy lost two men she loved in her lifetime. They both died too young. She passed away a few years after Martin, in the home of her oldest son. The children said she slowly grieved away.
You know what? If Brighton can be nailed, I’m going to nail him.
Tonight Ben and I start really digging into this. His girl is still in school and has to put in some serious study hours. I’d like to see this finalized so I can move on with my life. Perhaps with Clara, if she’ll have me. Suzette and I enjoyed traveling, but we stayed in the states, both of us a bit shell-shocked from the war, I guess. Now, I’d like to see Europe as a tourist. Clara has traveled extensively and would be an experienced traveling companion. If she’ll have me, that is.
Ben did a cursory overview of the file last night. Farrell’s desire to nail Brighton was often hampered by his desire not to hurt his cousin, Charlotte. But the gloves were removed in 1999 when she had a stroke. She’s still living, but doesn’t recognize anyone.
Lots of information, lots of rumors, lots of hearsay, and lots of insinuations. No proof. None whatsoever. Dang.
If the information is correct, and I imagine it is, Brighton was one son-of-a-gun. He redefines crooked-politician.
But I only talked to Ben briefly as it was late when I returned to my room after dance practice.
Here the reader pause, looks at his audience over his glasses, and grins what Suzette and Grace called his sly rascal grin. Yes, it was late when I got home from practice. Maybe the rest of you went directly to your rooms, but Clara and I went for a moonlight stroll.
Several people commented that their money was on Clara and me to win the dance contest. Perhaps we will. The luck of the Irish seems to have returned to old Fritz. Dancing with Clara is like dancing with an angel. I thought Grace could have been a professional, and Clara is just as good as Grace was. Suzette jokingly referred to Grace and I as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers when we danced together. Grace always insisted that Suzette danced as well or better than she did. The truth was, Suzette was a very close second. I only mention that so you will know, when I say Clara is a good dancer I know what I’m talking about.
Ben is now carefully going over the files Fallen gave us. I’ll stick with Martin’s columns and Grace’s diaries. We can cover more ground that way.
Ben’s girl is writing a thesis. Working and going to school is tough, but worth it in the long run. Ben says he only gets to see her when he takes her some food. I laughed, and laughed even harder when I learned they live together. He said if it got any worse he’d cut a hole in the door to her computer room and shove a plate of food through it now and then. Poor girl. But it does give Ben more time to work on our project.
Clara insisted, and rightfully so, that I take an entire day off. She wouldn’t even let me talk about the case. I asked her to drive and surprise me by taking me to her favorite places. We had breakfast at Mimi’s, that lovely French Café in the antique district. We went to all of the Antique shops. At first, I thought it was silly with neither, she nor I, having room for antiques. But, guess what? We bought a bunch of stuff.
I bought an antique fountain pen for Chase. Not easy to find gifts for him and Brandon. One of the problems of having millionaire friends. One bookstore has nothing but signed first editions. They want a pretty penny for them, but I’m sure I can find some affordable gifts for my book loving friends. I’ll check for new stock on a regular bases. The best place of all was a shop that carries only smalls, that’s what the dealer called her merchandise, smalls. I got Colleen a vintage perfume bottle. It was the second nicest one. Clara kept trying to get me to settle for the one she thought was the prettiest. Sly old devil that I am, I managed to get the dealer’s attention and conveyed that I wanted it as a surprise for Clara. I slipped her the money while Clara’s attention was diverted. As she chatted with another customer I paid for it and slipped it into my pocket.
We went back to Mimi’s for lunch. Ate light because I wanted to go to the FoxFire for dinner. After lunch we did a few more shops and then went to the History of Silent Film. We were both tired from shopping and happy to sit down and watch the films and cartoons.
The prime rib was excellent, as it always is at the Fox Fire. After dinner we strolled along the river, holding hands like we were kids. Perfect day. Perfect evening. But now I am in my room alone and wondering if reading Grace’s diary would be going back on my word to Clara. *Heavy sigh* Of course it would. We agreed I’d take one whole day off and so I will. I will read my prayer book, say the rosary and go to bed.
Clara was right. Taking a day off is rejuvenating. We took a walk and had breakfast in the dining room. Now she is off to school for the day. I’m surrounded by the diary, notes, Martin’s columns, notebooks, my computer, and my memories. Today I will work. Not only will I work, but I will find something. I can smell it. The old boy still has the nose for news. Hotdog!
It’s noon, my eyes wants rest, my body wants lunch, but my instincts say, read on.
Decided to take a break, go to the dining room and bring a plate back to my room. Thought it was a better plan then having it brought up. My eyes got the break they needed and it didn’t take as much time as eating there. As it often does, it’s starting to come together all at once. I was fixing my plate when Ben called. Finally getting in the habit of carrying the darn phone with me. Concessions to modern living have to be made.
So, Ben says he might be onto something and I’m to meet him at the Shamrock at three.
Jeanie will drive me over and Ben will bring me home.
When I returned with my lunch I went back to Grace’s diary. I skimmed through some of the everyday stuff. I was reading a particularly entertaining account of the group playing a game of Twister at a get-together. So funny I laughed out loud. Just as I bit into my peach cobbler the starting to come together part jumped out. I’ll read verbatim:
“We fell in a heap on the floor of Abe and Helen’s rec-room, a large mound of twisted people-pretzels, laughing uncontrollably. We rolled free, one at a time, refreshed our drinks and composed ourselves. Martin and I, being the last two holdouts who still smoke, went to the backyard. Our conversation turned to Brandon’s mother. Of course, Martin doesn’t know Sandra LaBelle is Brandon’s mother.
“It seems Sandra is pregnant with Congressman Brighton’s baby. So much for my birth control lecture. Martin has it straight from the mouth of one of Brighton’s staff. There are always leaks. Abe hears the ones about sports figures, Fritz about law enforcement, and Martin about politics. Me, being closed-mouth, and a good sounding board, hears them all.
“He cautioned me to keep it to myself, even though he knows I will. Strangely, he asked me to be sure the group never gets involved—Fritz in particular. When I pressed him to clarify, he would say no more. He made me promise that if things got ugly that I would stop Fritz from doing an investigation.
“Hm, someday I’ll have to decide whether or not Brandon should know he has a half brother or sister. I know her. She’ll have the baby. I still, even with this happening, believe in her goodness. Poor child had a rough background. She’ll call me if she needs me, and I’ll do what I can.”
And then the next evening she wrote:
“I was awakened by the phone this morning. Poor Judy, hysterically telling me Martin was gone. Dead. It still has not sunk in. My first response was anger. I reached for my cigarettes
and lighter, but when they were in my shaking hands I slung them into the wastepaper basket. Slung them as hard as I would a hated object. I smoked my last cigarette with Martin. The last one ever.”
She didn’t write again until after the funeral.
“What a terrible, terrible day. I’ve buried my parents and three husbands, but I’ve never been though such a day. Judy, once again a widow with fatherless children, Abe crying that it should have been him to go first. Fritz, the strong guy with the tender heart, touched me most of all. Nothing had prepared us for this. And me, the one who never falls apart until she is alone, will do it now.”
I ran my fingers over the ink smeared by her tears for a time. Finally, I laid my cheek to the tear stains and shed my own.
Ben was actually pacing the floor when I arrived at The Shamrock. I remember the adrenalin rush, the high of the final moments of an investigation, the thrill of knowing your gut was right. I remember it. Don’t miss it one bit. All I am feeling is the slow-building satisfaction of a job well- done, and an overdue spoon of justice about to be served.
Ben ordered a large draft for each of us. I usually only drink occasionally with meals nowadays, but I didn’t have the heart to squash the boy’s excitement, so I sipped mine until it was warm. Never could stand warm beer. Ben noticed and ordered me a fresh one when he ordered his third. I cautioned him not to have a fourth and he nodded in agreement. Jokingly told him Shay would blame me if I had to drive him home. I hope I get to meet his parents one day and compliment them. They brought up a fine young gentleman.
But you’re waiting to hear what we have thus far. We have a lot. Trouble will be proving it. Putting Grace’s diary and Farrell’s records together we have the story. Brighton was having an affair with LaBelle. She was flattered by the attention of an older, powerful man and fancied herself in love with him. In her desperation to be loved and cared for, she assumed he would divorce his wife and marry her. Of course, she was wrong. When she turned down his offer to have the pregnancy taken care of, he panicked. The set-up wasn’t that difficult.
He enlisted the help of a friendly (friendly meaning money was to be exchanged) diplomat from a small country that doesn’t exist anymore. Brighton’s mob connections, which there were always rumors about, also came in handy. The diplomat set her up. She met him in a motel room. His explanation was, he was from a poor little country, and his budget was limited. Told her his country wanted her for a big holiday advertising promotion.
Paid assassins were to take care of the fire. The diplomat, who thought he would get out, didn’t. Double crossed. Don’t feel sorry about him, but it is sad thinking of the girl burning alive. And there must have been good in her. Grace always knew people’s hearts.
We have a list of Farrell’s informants. Of the list of ten, eight have been crossed off.
Dead. Two living, very elderly informants. Dang.
Sat with Ben until I felt comfortable with his driving, and came home to ponder. Payoffs aren’t likely to work with elderly people. I could get the money from Chase. It would have a lecture attached, but he’d give it to me. Roll his eyes, and say “Uncle Fritz, you’re not putting yourself in danger, are you?” The uncle is always used the way a parent uses a middle name. Strangely, I don’t mind. He’d give it to me, even though payoffs for that sort of thing can be high . . . in the millions. But, payoffs won’t work. Maybe, we can play the fear card. Getting close to eternity can play on the mind. Yeah, it’s the fear card. Hint that they need to make things right before moving on to the next world. I can do it.
Last night, after I got my plan sort of formulated, my thoughts turned to Clara. Surprised by love in my senior years, I’ve made the decision to take a risk. She’ll probably turn me down. She seems happy with her life as it is, but, nevertheless, I’ll ask her to marry me.
We walked this morning. Walked along in silence for a spell. Clara seemed to have something on her mind. Finally, she told me she was going to see her daughters. Three weeks at each of their homes. We strolled on, me feeling rather dejected, for a time. Six weeks seems like an eternity to me. Finally she asked if something was bothering me.
I told her I felt sad thinking of six weeks without her. When her eyes welled up with tears I managed to get it out. To my complete surprise she simple answered, yes. Said she would cut her visit to two weeks then we can get married, and take a honeymoon trip to Europe. Hotdog!
We sat on a park bench and made our plans. Right after the dance and the day cruise, she’ll visit her children. When she returns we will get married. After our talk we walked over to the section with cottages. We both agreed it would be nice to have a home with a small yard and patio. I could picture us on the patio doing the crossword together.
Journal Entry: Morning
This morning I awoke to the sound of pounding rain. Clara called and asked if I wanted to drive to the mall for a walk since we couldn’t walk outdoors. We walked around two times at a good pace, then strolled along looking in shop windows for one more round. Had a light breakfast in a coffee shop, and picked up some brochures at a travel agency.
The rain picked up to an even harder downpour so we returned and had lunch here. Clara decided to go to her rooms and read. Ben called and asked if I minded going out in the rain. Told him no, and managed to refrain from using the tired cliche about sugar. When I got in his car I told him I’d smack him if he said it was raining cats and dogs. He laughed. After that he was silent for a time and when I asked him about it, without saying a penny for your thoughts, he laughed again. Said he was trying to makeup a fresh allegory about rain. So I gave it an attempt and also failed. Guess we can’t write as well as we think we can.
Finally dawned on me I had no idea where we were going. Old body’s not doing too bad but the comprehension has slowed down a bit. Or maybe I didn’t care. Content to be riding in the rain with a young friend, I was enjoying myself. When I saw we were heading in the direction of Charleston, I asked.
“Sand Crane Nursing Home,” was his quick reply. When I joked and asked if it was a setup to leave me there he didn’t laugh until he glanced at me. “Going to see Marga Rivers,” he said.
He knew I would recognize the name. It was one of the remaining ones on Farrell’s list. But I knew the name before that. She was the gossip columnist for The Charleston Gazette, back in the day.
Rivers must be very advanced in years, but there is a lady living at The Frond who can beat anyone at bridge, swims everyday, and keeps up on the news at one-hundred-one. Hopefully, Rivers will be able to converse. I would enjoy a conversation with her, as I knew her husband, Tom. I remember he had a rather secretive job, FBI or CIA it was rumored. He would only say he was a pencil-pusher for the government. Hm, had forgotten about that.
I told Ben about Clara and me, and he asked about our wedding plans. Made me realize we don’t have any. Guess I’ll go along with whatever she wants. As for me, I’d like a quiet private wedding, but my gut feeling is, that won’t happen. Not after word gets around.
Aw, well, guess I can handle a big to-do. She’s got me in pretty good shape with all the walking. We’ll announce our news at the dance Friday night.
The rain had settled down to a hazy drizzle by the time we arrived. Nice place, if a nursing home can be nice. They have recently changed the name to Sand Crane Restorative Care, but none of the patients I saw looked very restored. I said a prayer of thanks as we walked to Marga’s room. She turned out to be a joy. Gets around well with the help of a walker. Pretty hair and a touch of makeup. Expensive clothing. She even wore dress shoes with low heels. Her room was bright, even with it being a cloudy day. She invited us out onto her cozy veranda. I noted a scrapbook on the table.
We chatted a bit about mutual friends. She smiled when I mentioned having met Tom on several occasions. Said they had enjoyed a good life together. After staff had served us tea she
sent Ben to her entertainment center for the sipping whiskey she kept in a crystal decanter. Said it would be the smoothest we ever tasted and she was right. Ben said he had never tasted sipping whiskey, but after he sipped, he stated he was sorry he was the one driving. Charming woman. She told him to leave his address and she would have a bottled sent to him.
After enough time had been spent, according to the unwritten southern code of good manners, on small talk and gossip, she skillfully turned the conversation to the purpose of our visit. She had already figured out it was about Brighton and LaBelle. Ben told her on the phone it was about a cold case concerning politics and a fire.
She confirmed the stories about Brighton, the pregnancy, the double-cross of the diplomat, and recounted the problems it had caused between her and Tom. It seems she wanted to write about it, but Tom was insistent that she would not. I’ll give that to you in her own words.
“The story was the talk of Charleston and Washington. Tom was an FBI agent. I can say that now. I couldn’t then. We had many a spirited argument about it. Fifth Amendment rights discussions were putting a strain on our marriage. Tom, strong in his beliefs about the equality of the sexes, actually got worked up enough to forbid me to write the story. When I, unkindly, laughed at him, he got tears in his eyes, gently took me by the shoulders, looked me square in the eyes and said, ‘I’m begging you. Don’t talk about it. Don’t write about it.’
“I realized he meant it could cost me my life—or worse endanger our children. I backed off even though I had a solid source. Of course, if I had quoted the source, and refused to reveal my source, it could have landed me in jail. We could have handled that, probably could even have handled the threat to us. But we had to think of our children. I have the story I wrote and never published.” At that point she handed Ben a brown envelope and opened her scrapbook before she continued.
“All of those stories and not one single word in print. No journalist dared to print it. Doesn’t that tell you what a powerful man Brighton is.” She pointed to a picture. “That’s my source. Lynn Silvers. Married to Brighton’s body guard.” The picture was taken at Muscle Beach. It showed Lynn standing beside a man flexing his muscle in the typical body builder pose.
Ben, of course, asked if she knew what became of them. It turns out they are both dead. “Lynn drowned in a boating accident. Her husband claimed he was sleeping when she fell overboard after a night of drinking. Ruled suspicious, but nothing ever proven. Husband shot himself in the head five years later,” Marga said.
Just before we rose to leave, she mentioned placing a hand written statement in the envelope. She gave me her hand and lifted it for a kiss. That was rather touching. Ben had the good manners to follow the example. He even asked for her autograph. She signed a recent picture and gave it to him. She is rather well-known. The last of the old-time gossip columnists. Wrote for over fifty years.
We were silent for a time on the way back and then I asked Ben what he liked most about Marga. I could tell he liked her. He answered that it was her giving him a recent picture. We didn’t discuss it anymore but I know what he meant. She has a strong sense of who she is that has nothing to do with her age. Needless to say, I liked that too.
The next day a limo delivered a case of sipping whiskey to Ben’s apartment. Shay was impressed. Note said to be sure I had two bottles. One for me and one for my girl. Wonder how she knew I had a girl? I never mentioned Clara.
Ben made me a copy of the note and e-mailed it to me. I’ll read it. “I wanted you and Fritz to have my home address and number. I’m actually going back to my house. I’ll have a nurse for a time. Not many here get to leave, but I am one of the fortunate ones. My broken hip has healed completely, and the therapist says I should be able to walk without the walker soon. She suggested I keep it close, just incase I need support. My boyfriend who lives next door, winked and said I won’t need the walker.
“I enjoyed your visit, even though the story is one of my few unpleasant memories. I hope you are able to nail that scoundrel, Brighton.
Life is good. I never thought when I typed my first journal entry I would ever type those words.
But my life is good—very good. As you all know Clara and I won the dance contest and had a perfect—absolutely perfect—evening. We were a shoe-in to win—the sentimental favorites—because our engagement is known. Nevertheless, Clara danced like an angel, and I didn’t do too bad for an old boy.
The evening seemed charmed—rather like a movie. I can hear the band playing and the vocalist singing—“For I’m gettin' married in the mornin' Ding dong! the bells are gonna chime”—I can feel Clara in my arms—weightless----I swear her feet moved on air—I can relive it all as I sit here in my room—typing.
But I won’t type long. No, not this morning. My fair lady and I are going to have coffee, share a muffin, go to Mass, and then to Sea Breeze for a luncheon. The only sad part of the day will be evening when I take her to the airport. But Clara must feel as sad as I—she cut her trip to five days instead of a full week. Life is good.
We didn’t know the luncheon was in our honor. Neither Clara nor I even suspected. Bonnie and Kelly were there as guests. Brandon had to remind them several times that they were not to lift a finger to help. Everything was catered.
After the luncheon was served we watched My Fair Lady—everyone insisted Clara and I dance—no one had to twist our arms.
Then there were the gifts: A four day trip to New York which includes tickets to the theater, a play presented by the local college at The Palm-Frond Retirement Community—complete with dinner prepared by the culinary students, and a gift certificate to the FoxFire. Yes, life is good.
Felt a little sad waking—knowing Clara is gone. But I walked, as I promised her I would. Didn’t go to the Coffee Café. I had juice, coffee, toast and an egg brought to my room so I could read Grace’s journals. The grief I’ve felt so long because of losing my friends is being replaced by a feeling of warmth when I remember them. This is good.
Read most of the day. Broke only for lunch and a catnap. Drank more coffee than usual, but if I can’t sleep tonight I’ll just read on. I did take a little stroll late in the afternoon as I don’t want Clara scolding me for overdoing the reading.
Hit pay dirt around one in the morning. My heart still pounds when I think on it. Called Ben, he’s picking me up, and we’re going to Charleston. The key to a safety deposit box was taped to a page of Grace’s diary. Martin gave it to her the night they went outside to smoke. Gave it to her instead of me—feared I’d be hurt.
Poor Grace. She struggled with her decision to keep her knowledge to herself for the remainder of her life. The safety box is in my name. Martin must have forged my name, or got someone to do it, but no one will question it. Not at my age. I’ll even sign a little shaky, even though my hand is steady. It might even be a little shaky on a day like this.
I managed to doze a little in the car. Felt the car pull into the First Bank of Charleston and came to reality with my heart pounding. Aw well, Clara says we should get our heart rates up. Mine was.
The little-bitsy gal who took us to the box never questioned why I hadn’t been there, since long before she was born. Grace’s estate lawyers kept the payments up so I guess that’s all the bank cared about. I swear, I could hear the echo of my heart beating in the vault as I picked up the one lone envelope.
Ben and I hot-footed it to a coffee shop and my usually steady hands did tremble as I opened the thick, long brown envelope. I let a hot-damn slip out of my mouth, but one does need something to confess at confession.
We hit pay-dirt, indeed. Pictures, letters, doctor’s reports, signed statements—slam dunk.
Can’t tell you how many times I had to tell Ben to slow down on the way back. Told him I was going to take his cell-phone away from him or drive. He pulled over and let me drive. Suppose I’d have done the same thing at his age.
As it was, the kid talked to his editor all the way through the editor’s office door. Honest. They didn’t stop talking on the phone until they picked up in mid-sentence face to face.
Journal Entry: Morning
Strangely, it feels like it concluded too quickly when in reality it was an eternity—a cold case that spent decades in limbo—because of me. Grace refused to have those she loved put in harm’s ways. When I began, I thought solving the mystery would sum-up my life—but life will go on.
Ben will launch his story by publishing Marga’s un-printed column, followed by the documentation, and summed up with our story. He will likely become a huge success in the journalism field overnight. I will at last have The Police Beat published with a dramatic final chapter. The authorities will investigate. Martin’s body may have to be exhumed to prove my poison theory. But in the end, justice will be served. Some will say “too little, too late,” but I believe otherwise. Having your name muddied in history is by far the greatest punishment. And he knows. Didn’t happen after his death—Brighton knows now.
I saved the best for last. Included in the large brown envelope was a smaller white one addressed to me. I’ll read it in closing.
Put our story to rest now. It’s long past its bedtime.
Cherish your memories, but go on about the business of making more.
And may we all, my friends. May we all make memories.