Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Angela (VI)

Once Angela was safely seated inside the car she flashed a wink at the handsome cop before he closed the door. He smiled back at her naturally. He walked around the nose of the cruiser and let himself in the car. He leaned to the right when he buckled his seatbelt, and Angela placed her left hand on his cheek. He looked up at her, bewildered. Dwayne took her hand and gently lowered it from his face. He placed it back on her side of the console, and straightened up in his seat. The look she had given him sent a chill straight to his core. He felt like he could have been sweating bullets.

"What's wrong?" Angela asked him. "You don't like a display of affection once in awhile?" Dwayne took a moment to respond, giving himself a few seconds to make sure his voice would be under control when he spoke.

"I would hardly call that appropriate for two people in our position." He started the car and backed out of the parking lot.

"And what position is that? Doggie?" Angela flipped her head around to face out the passenger window. She buried her bandaged hands into her sweater on her lap.

Dwayne's mouth dropped open, but he closed it quickly. He didn't want a response from him to inspire her to go any further. He could consider filing sexual harassment but it was hardly anything to go on and would really cause more trouble than it was worth. He bit his bottom lip and changed lanes smoothly. He grinned a little as he thought of a response.

"If you don't behave yourself then I'll have to make you ride in the backseat." Angela whipped her head back around to face him but was taken off guard by his bold smile.

I didn't know he had it in him. Angela thought as she smiled back at him.

"Does that mean you'll be in the backseat with me?" She fluttered her eyes and smiled. Her smile seemed more like a dare. Dwayne had no idea what to say.

"One minute I'm trying to recover from what you say, and the next minute I'm doing it all over again. Do you have a limit?"

"No." She grinned that impish smile again. "I'll crack you eventually, Dwayne."

"Officer Jackson, please. Let's at least try to keep this a formal acquaintance?" He turned onto Old Southton Highway.

"Fine. I'll call you by your official title. But only in public, Officer," Angela smirked again. "As long as we're alone together, I'll keep to calling you Dwayne."

Dwayne shook his head a little in disagreement, but gave a sigh that indicated he was giving in to the argument. If you can even call it an argument. He thought for awhile about what she had said earlier about a display of affection. It has been a very long time...

"Where are we going anyway?" Angela interrupted his train of thought, but he was okay with making conversation. He had always been a social being.

"We're going to 'Eats 'R Us.' Its a small place but they have really great food." He glanced over at Angela and found her staring at him in what he took to be disgust. Her facial expressions are so varied, it was hard to tell what was what.

"Eats 'R Us?" Seriously?" Her mouth was still open in surprise. Or awe. Dwayne chuckled softly.

"It's cozy. You'll see." He put on his blinker and moved into the left turn lane. He noticed that Angela looked anxious as he pulled into the parking lot and found a space.

"Everything okay?" He waited a moment, and she looked down at her lap. "Angela?" He put two fingers under her chin and turned her face towards him. Her eyes were cloudy, threatening rain.

"I'm fine." Angela almost managed to whisper this, but couldn't quite bring herself to that volume.

"Is it your uncle? Or is there something else bothering you?" Dwayne had dropped his hand to hold hers. She glanced at his hand, taking a deep breath.

"I'm okay. Let's go in and eat." She shook away any sign of tears and smiled softly, her cheeks turning the faintest shade of pink. Dwayne patted her arm and stepped out of the car, coming around to open Angela's door for her. He found she had already done his job for him.

Walking into the greasy diner, several patrons greeted Dwayne by his first name. He waved at some in a far off corner, but he did approach an elderly man near to the door.

"How are you doing, Walter?" Dwayne shook the old man's speckled hand vigorously. Angela thought he looked too frail for that kind of action.

"I'm doing just great Dwayne. Who is this young lass you've got with ya?" Walter's thin hair was wispy and clumped together in small tufts that branched away from his scalp in all directions, like the branches of an old gnarled tree. His face had more age spots than his hand, and on part of his neck it was hard to tell if they were age spots or if they were birthmarks.

"This is Angela. She's in town on family business." Dwayne looked at Angela and was surprised to see her staring at Walter with her eyes wide. Maybe where she's from they have plastic surgery for old chums like Walter. She's already had enough for one day.

"Well that's dandy. Who is your family that you have business with?" Walter asked Angela directly, raising his bushy white eyebrows until they too looked like the tufts of hair on his head.

"My uncle passed away and I'm in charge of selling the house." Angela responded calmly, her face going a bit back into its normal expression. She still looked uneasy, but at least it wasn't obvious now.

"Tha's too bad. S'never a good thing when you lose a loved one." Walter put a spoonful of cottage cheese in his mouth and swished it around a little, giving Dwayne some time to jump in.

"Her uncle lived up in that house at the top of Suncrest Hill, on the backside of the Laughlin's place." Dwayne looked at Angela, who nodded meekly. "You remember Old Murray don't you?"

Walter smacked his spoon down on the table, sending small flecks of cottage cheese all over. Some of it landed on Dwayne's uniform but a bigger splotch managed to hit Angela's sweater that she was still carrying around with her.

Walter turned his head slowly to face Angela, his eyes narrowed. His mouth pulled back in a grimace, showing his jaunty yellow teeth.

"Of course I remember Old Mister Murray." Walter sneered again. "How could I forget such a despicable man?"

"Alright, Walter, I'm sorry I brought it up. Let's just drop it now." Dwayne took a step and placed himself between Angela and the table where Walter sat. He could tell the room was more quiet than before, but he paid no attention.

"I'll drop it for now, but you can bet your black ass that I won't forget. No sir, there is no forgettin' a wrong that's been done to ya." Walter's yellowed teeth were exposed again in another sneer. "No, I won't be forgettin' any time soon."

"I'm sorry, Walter. I'll stop by again tomorrow then you and I can have a chat to ourselves." Dwayne took Angela by the elbow and began to lead her away. When they were a table's distance away, Walter began to get a little louder in his exclamations of exquisite memory. "I'll talk to you later, Walter."

Dwayne directed Angela to a booth in the back of the diner and sat her down with her back to the door. There was a curtain next to the booth, tied up with a dusty black cloth. Dwayne untied the curtain and let it fall between them and the rest of the diner. It was rather successful at blocking out the other diners.

"That better?" Dwayne asked Angela.

"Yeah, thanks." She gave a half smile and picked up a menu from behind the ketchup bottle.

"How do they know when we're ready to order if the curtain is down?" Angela glanced over the small menu as she asked this, glad for the security the curtain seemed to provide.

"There is a little flag we run up on the outside. The rope is behind your shoulder, just there." Angela looked around and found the worn rope. She peeked her head out of the curtain to see the lowered red flag on the outside of the booth.

"Neat." Angela played with the rope for a moment before leaving the flag in its lowered position.

"Are you getting anything, Dwayne?" He shook his head and she continued looking at the menu. Once she had decided on the chef's salad, she hoisted the flag and the waitress came over promptly.

Dwayne ordered the biscuits and gravy, with a carafe of black coffee to go along. Angela went with a water. The waitress returned with their drinks and left again, just as efficiently as before.

"So, I was wondering," Angela paused to look at Dwayne in the eye. "What was with Walter when we came in? How does he know my uncle?"

"Ah. I figured you would ask me that." Dwayne sighed. "I suppose it all began years ago, before I was even graduated from high school. The two of them used to go drinking together. They were great pals, Stephen and Walter."

"This sounds cheesy. Is this really a legitimate story you're telling me?"

"You haven't even let me finish yet, missy."

"Sorry. Please continue." Angela sipped her water and listened as patiently as she could.

"As I was saying. There was a set of twins, Marlene and Maribel. They were beautiful girls, and sharp too."

"How do you know they were beautiful if all this happened before you paid any attention?" Angela interrupted again.

"I repeat. Let me finish." Dwayne shot her a quick glance and she huffed and waved him on. "The boys were both attracted to the twins, though at first they only ever saw one girl at a time. They fought over her. The girls thought it would be funny to tease them a little, so each girl would date Stephen and Walter on the same night. The only problem was they risked running into the other group since the town was so small. So they decided to reveal themselves, and were well received."

Dwayne paused here to pour himself another coffee. A few moments later, the food had arrived, so he paused a bit longer while they ate. He was finished rather quickly, so Angela didn't have to urge him to continue the story. She continued eating while he picked up again.

"The boys were fine with the arrangement of being with beautiful girls. They were all happy until Walter decided that he wanted to be with Marlene, who was Stephen's 'steady' as they called it. Stephen wouldn't allow the switch, and Walter became furious. What Walter didn't know was that the girls still would routinely pull the switcheroo on Stephen and Walter. They kept it up even though the boys would fight, so neither one of them really knew who it was they were kissing goodnight."

"So what happened then? Didn't they just get over it?"

"No, Walter never was good at letting anything go. So one evening, they were all together, and Stephen told Walter to leave him and his girl alone. Walter refused and grabbed Marlene by the arm. She resisted but he hit her, so your uncle defended her. They began fist-fighting in the street. Maribel was standing by, and other men had come out to cheer on the fight. No one would help. So Maribel jumped in to try to break it up. It ended up that Marlene got injured in the fray, and as a result died from her injuries. At her autopsy they discovered that she was pregnant."

"Wow," Angela gaped at this unexpected turn. "What happened to Maribel?"

"Well, since it was Walter and Stephen fighting, the family never really forgave either of them. Maribel went on to marry an accountant but died a year or two afterwards from missing her twin. Or that's what they say. Walter married someone else, but she left him later on in life. Your uncle holed himself up in that house on Suncrest Hill and never showed any interest in getting married or even courting."

Angela stared at her salad. She didn't feel hungry for it anymore. The waitress brought her a refill and boxed up her salad for her. Dwayne peeked around the curtain and saw that Walter had gone home for the evening. He escorted Angela back to the car, leaving money on the table for the tab and tip.

It was quiet for a few moments. Dwayne could tell Angela had a lot on her mind.

"I know it probably hardly matters now, but do you have any idea who or what was in my house today?" Angela sounded nervous, so Dwayne answered in a soft tone.

"I don't think there was anyone there. The wind was strong last night, its possible that it knocked a branch out of a tree and that is causing some noise around the house." He glanced over at Angela, but what he had said didn't seem to have helped.

"I didn't see anyone or anything in the house when I arrived. There were no footprints, no sign of forced entry into the house, nothing seemed to be missing or out of place." He heard Angela sigh in relief.

They pulled up to Aubrey's Bed and Breakfast, and he showed her inside. Angela followed, clutching her sweater to her with her bandaged hands.

"Miss Aubrey, this is Angela Murray. She needs a bed for the next two nights if you have it."

"Why certainly, Dwayne. Anything for the best man on the force." The redhead smiled and took a key from a box on the wall. "Do you have any bags dear?"

Angela shook her head no. "I'm afraid I forgot all my things in my car."

"Don't worry about your luggage, Miss Murray. I'll pick all that up for you tomorrow." Dwayne reassured her.

"Thank you." Angela spoke in a soft tone, and followed Aubrey up the stairs. "Goodnight, Officer Jackson."

"Goodnight, Angela." Dwayne waited for Aubrey to return from showing Angela to her room.

"If she wakes up screaming, or says anything about hearing clawing sounds, please let me know." Aubrey raised her eyebrows at this statement from Dwayne, but didn't inquire further.

"Not a problem, Dwayne. Will you be back tomorrow with her belongings?"

"Yes. And I intend to help her get whatever she needs for that old house. Her uncle was Stephen Murray."

"You don't say! Well, she'll get a good night's sleep here, and a hearty breakfast in the morning."

"Thanks, Aubrey. I owe you one." Dwayne turned to leave, his hand resting on the antique doorknob.

"No, Dwayne. It's on me." She grinned again. "Get outta here. I'll see you tomorrow." Aubrey disappeared into her office, and Dwayne walked back out into the dark, crisp night.

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