Last Scene Alive Chapter Fifteen

Our evening dragged. We were supposed to get off at nine, and at eight-thirty Perry excused himself to go through his getting-ready ritual, whatever that consisted of.

I heard the drone of an electric razor from the men's rest-room.

No one had shown a face in the library for the past hour, when Josh had left. I'd heard some books thud down into the book drop, but that was the most action we'd had. I began straightening the desk for the morning people. My arm was hurting, and I was looking forward to another pain pill and my own bed. The energy I'd recouped from the nap had long been used up, and I was very tired. I wondered where Robin was, what he was doing, whether he knew suspicion had crossed my mind. I wondered how Barrett was feeling, if he'd gotten over the shock of finding Celia dead. I wondered if he was a serious suspect in Celia's death.

While I was pondering all these things, I found a book with a number of loose pages. One of the day workers had put it on the cart to return to the stacks. I snorted with indignation. That book had to go back to the repair area.

’’Mark's here!’’ Perry called. I turned to look at the front doors. Perry was wearing a black leather jacket and he looked really good. Mark was wearing a fresh shirt and creased khakis. ’’I'm going to go on and leave if that's okay with you, Roe.’’

It lacked only ten minutes till closing time. ’’Sure. All I have to do is lock the back door on my way out.’’ I'd closed the library many times.

Perry and Mark waved as I locked the double glass doors behind them, and they strode off into the night. I began turning out lights in the main room. Of course, we kept some on all night, but that still left plenty to do. I looked around the big room, took one big inhalation of eau de book, and opened the heavy door that led to the new wing of the library. The employee lounge still smelled of Perry's cologne, and I decided that if Perry was putting on cologne and shaving for a drink with a guy, he wasn't as totally clueless of his own nature as he'd tried to appear. I got my purse out of my locker, extracted my keys, and spotted a light still burning in Sam's office. I went to switch it off. Now the employee lounge was the only lit room.

The building suddenly felt very empty, uncomfortably empty.

I heard someone fumbling at the lock outside and I stood in the middle of the floor, paralyzed with sudden fear. The door flew open, picked up by the wind outside. I realized as a leaf gusted in that it was beginning to rain again outside.

Patricia Bledsoe - I could not think of her by her real name - stepped in from the dark. She was as astonished to see me as I was to see her.

’’He hasn't called the police,’’ I said instantly.

She gave a sigh. I thought it was of relief. ’’I saw your car in the parking lot, but I noticed two people came out the front. I thought you'd gone somewhere with Perry,’’ she said. ’’Jerome's out in the car. We had to turn back halfway to ... well, halfway, and come back. I forgot something important.’’

’’Get whatever it is, don't mind me,’’ I said. ’’I'm not even here.’’ I'd dropped my purse on a table, and now I picked it up again. Patricia sped into her office, pulling a drawer out all the way and fumbling under it. Her hand came up clutching an envelope, and I realized she'd had it taped to the bottom of her drawer. How the paranoid live. Though, in Patricia's case, the paranoia was justified.

’’Where will you go?’’ I asked. ’’Wait a minute, forget I asked that.’’

And we both heard the back door begin to open. Patricia hadn't locked it behind her.

With a desperate expression on her face, Patricia ducked down below her desk. I stepped out of her office, hoping the light in there didn't show anything suspicious over the half-wall.

To my surprise, Will Weir stepped in. I'd half-forgotten out conversation. His timing was awful.

’’What are you doing here?’’ I asked, not caring if I sounded rude or not.

’’I'm glad I caught you,’’ he said, smiling. ’’I'm sorry if I scared you. Is it illegal, coming in the back way? The front was locked, and it's not nine yet.’’

No, it was all of 8:58. I felt abruptly uneasy. ’’You're not supposed to come in this door,’’ I said. I didn't smile back. ’’You're going to have to wait to come to the library tomorrow. I've shut everything down.’’

’’I just needed to see the books Mark brought in,’’ he said, still smiling. ’’I see they're over here in the box.’’

’’It's too late. You have to come back tomorrow.’’

’’I have to work tomorrow. Let me just take a minute, and I'll be all through.’’ He'd made his voice soothing, as though I was being childish.

I know when someone's trying to get away with something. I've sure been a librarian long enough for that.

’’Will, what's in those books that's so important? That can't wait?’’

He smiled again, made a ’’wait’’ gesture with his hand, and began riffling through the pile of books. The wind was whooshing through the cracked door, and it fluttered the pages of the book he held, the book about diagnosing your own illness. Will shook it. Nothing happened. He followed that procedure with every book in the box. As book after book proved a disappointment, he tossed them to one side. I almost protested, and then caught myself.

He kept talking the whole time, meaningless phrases like, ’’I'll be out of your hair in just a second,’’ and ’’I just need to check these books.’’ He was just trying to keep me sedated, I realized, and then he lifted the bound movie script that Mark had brought by accident. I'd completely forgotten it. Will turned it upside down, and shook it, and from its pages flew a folded piece of paper. The wind picked up the paper and blew it in my direction, and it landed on the table to my right.

Without a single thought in my head I picked it up and unfolded it. It was a yellowed letter, and it began, ’’Dearest Celia, the lawyer should give you this when you turn twenty-nine. I think you should know who your father is...’’ and then the paper was snatched out of my hand.

’’You don't need that. It's mine.’’ Will was smiling again, that warm and homey smile that had made me feel relaxed and comfortable in his company.

’’Were you Celia's dad?’’ I asked, incredulous. ’’Did she know?’’

’’She did after the lawyer delivered that letter,’’ Will said. ’’She turned twenty-nine last week, and the package came Federal Express from the lawyer in Wilmington.’’

’’Why did Celia's mom leave her a letter?’’

’’She knew she wasn't going to be around to talk to Celia in person.’’

’’She knew she had Huntington's.’’

’’Yeah, she knew. 'Course, I didn't, until it was too late. I would never have risked a relationship with a woman who had a disease like that. I would have known my heart would get broken.’’

’’So you knew Linda Shaw after her divorce?’’

’’Yeah, she came out to California to find me. She'd felt the first symptoms, and the Huntington's had been diagnosed in North Carolina. She wanted to see Celia placed before she got any worse, and she wanted to do a little living before she got too sick. So she left Celia with her sister, and she followed me out to California. She wanted to do that living with me. The only thing is, she didn't tell me. She didn't tell me she'd had my child, and she didn't tell me she was going to die.’’ He was bitter all over: voice, stance, words.

’’That was really wrong of her,’’ I said softly. I began to edge a little closer to the door. He was still to my left, by the book-mending area, but with one leap he could be between me and freedom.

’’Damn right.’’ He looked as though he was going to cry. ’’Then, when she got really sick, she begged me to help her. She begged me to kill her. Finally, I helped her out.’’

’’She wasn't a suicide.’’

’’Not strictly speaking.’’

’’It was you.’’

’’Yes, it was me. She asked me. I couldn't stand to see her suffer any longer, lose her personality, her muscle control, everything that made Linda a person.’’

’’What about Celia?’’

He was scanning the letter. ’’I met up with her when she came out to California after she got a bit part in a TV series I was filming. She looked so much like her mother that I followed her the first time I saw her. Then I arranged to meet her. She was Linda's daughter, all right, and she was my daughter, too. At first she tried to make friends with me - she didn't know, of course. She just knew I was an important guy.’’

Oh. That was the kind of ’’friends’’ she'd tried to make.

’’Luckily, I'd told her I was her dad before the letter came.’’

’’You know, I really don't need to know any more,’’ I said cheerfully. ’’You can take your letter and go now.’’

’’I think you know a little more than you need to,’’ he said. ’’I've taken care of the women I loved. I've done the right thing by them. I don't love you, and I don't care any more if I do the right thing or not. I like my job, and I like to work, and I don't want you to stop me doing that. Celia never told anyone we were kin.’’

’’Who your family is, is your business.’’

’’I don't think for one second that you're that naive, Aurora. I think you know I killed Celia.’’

’’Why?’’ I asked desperately. ’’Why would you do that?’’

’’You could tell she was getting it,’’ he said. ’’You could tell. It was just like Linda. She was beginning to stumble around. She was beginning to make these sudden movements without knowing she was doing it. She was having trouble remembering her lines. In a year, she'd be just another starlet who'd caught a bad disease, and she'd be forgotten in two years. This way, she'll always be remembered. She'll always be brought up in the magazines. Like Brandon Lee. Freak accident;they still print his name, his picture, what might have been. Celia, they'll do the same.’’

The thing I hated most - media attention - he'd sought out as being preeminently desirable. More valuable than life. And yet, hadn't I had the same thought hours before? Better a provocative whodunit than a disease of the week?

’’What would Celia have thought about that?’’

’’You can't tell me she didn't know,’’ he said defensively. ’’I brought her the coffee with the Valium in it, a whopping dose;she must have tasted something funny about it. She just looked at me while she was drinking it. Then she closed her eyes and waited.’’

Then she fell unconscious.

’’She'd had a good night before with that stepson of yours,’’ Will Weir said. ’’He was good-looking enough, and self-serving enough, to show her a good time.’’

I wanted to throw up. The Celia Shaw pre-death lay.

’’And she was on the set of her very own movie, her very first starring role. Her Emmy was beside her. She had her own trailer.’’

’’So you put a pillow over her face.’’

’’She didn't struggle. She was at peace. No disease, at the top of her form. And then I carried off the coffee cup.’’

I put a hand over my mouth. He explained what he'd done so plausibly, but it was wrong, wrong, wrong.

’’Did you ask Celia what she wanted? Did you tell her about her mom's Huntington's?’’

’’Not before she read it in the letter.’’ He shrugged. ’’I didn't know about the letter.’’

’’Would you have told her?’’

’’No.’’ He looked surprised. ’’No, I would never have told her. We'd have had to go through the whole emotional scene, then, the crying and shit.’’

The crying and shit. What an inconvenience.

’’Did you get this job with the idea of watching over her?’’

He said, ’’More or less.’’

Meaning, no. He'd been hired by chance, observed the beginnings of Celia's disease by chance, revealed his identity to her only when she'd made a play for him. And then, he thought he'd kill her. After all, he was her dad. He had the right to choose for her.

I don't think I've ever loathed anyone so much in my life.

’’What are you going to do now?’’ I asked, cutting to the chase. I might as well know.

’’I guess I'm going to take this letter with me. I guess, if you say anything about it, I'll just say you lied.’’

Hope flickered in me for a minute, to be extinguished when I considered the overwhelming selfishness of this man's life. He had no intention of leaving me alive with his secret. After all, there were blood tests that could prove whether or not he'd been Celia's father. And there was the lawyer who could testify he'd had a letter sent to Celia on her birthday, even if he couldn't say what the contents of that letter had been.

I had no idea what I could do to stop him. I don't go around armed. You'd be surprised how many Southern belles have a gun in their purse, but I wasn't one of them. I didn't have a stun gun, or a blackjack... hey. I had a panic button! It was on the keyless entry pad for my car.

I'd gotten my keys out and now they were clutched in my hand. Was my car close enough to the back door to pick up the signal? I hadn't the slightest idea how the damn thing worked. I probably had to be closer. So, before I could have second thoughts, I made a dash for the back door, managed to get my hand out of it, and pressed the panic button.

Beep! Beep! Beep ! My car responded in a wonderful way, lights flashing and horn blaring. But I feared it was too little, too late, because now Will had hold of me around the waist and was pulling me back into the library. I held on to the doorknob of the open door as long as I could, but he was a strong man and my grip was weak.

Who would be driving past the library anyway, at nine o'clock on a weeknight? Downtown Lawrenceton was pretty much deserted even on the weekends, much less on a Thursday night. My heart sank, even as I kicked backwards at him, hoping to land a blow south of the waist.

I got him in the shin instead, not nearly as effective, but enough to raise a ’’Huh!’’ of surprise. I shrieked, hoping to add to the din of the horn and addle his brain, but all that did was make him mad. He whopped me upside the head with an open hand. If he'd fisted it, it would have knocked me out or broken my neck, but I guess he wasn't used to victims who actually fought back. He couldn't control both my hands, so I went for his face, hoping to scratch him conspicuously, and I dug in. My nails are always short, so I didn't make as much of a gouge as I'd hoped for, but he was bleeding and cursing up a storm. He hit me again, and this time he did a better job of it.

’’Help!’’ I screamed, and someone actually did.

I had completely forgotten Patricia Bledsoe.

Patricia was dancing behind him with a gun in her hand.

If she shot him, she'd get me.

Before I could give my opinion, she seemed to realize that, too, and turned the gun around in her hand. Holding it by the barrel, she poised herself, and swung the butt with all her might. She connected solidly with his head, right above his right ear. There was an awful little noise, like stepping on wet peanut shells, and then he collapsed in a heap.

We stood there and breathed heavily for a minute, Patricia's chest heaving just as hard as mine.

’’Oh, thank you,’’ I babbled. ’’Oh, Patricia, thank you thank you.’’

’’I've got to get out of here,’’ she said precisely, clipping off her words like they were the end of a cigar.

’’Yes, sure.’’

’’What are you going to tell them?’’

’’I'll make up something, you get gone. I won't tell anyone.’’

’’I believe you,’’ she said, sounding a little surprised.

’’He could've hit the corner of that table,’’ I said. ’’It's wood.’’ I wasn't sure if that would make a difference or not, but it sounded good.

’’Better put some blood on the corner, then,’’ Patricia advised. She had her envelope still clutched in her hand, and now she tucked it into her skirt pocket.

’’Good luck to you and Jerome,’’ I said, and then Patricia Bledsoe - Anita Defarge - was out of the Lawrenceton Library for the very last time, and over the sound of my car honking, I never heard her pull away.

I had a couple of things to do before I called 911. Feeling my whole face pucker with distaste, I touched my fingers to Will Weir's depressed wound, and I rubbed the blood and hair on the corner of the table nearest him. I thought briefly of trying to move him closer to the table, but I was afraid of screwing up things even more. Better leave it simple.

I didn't think I'd ever concealed a crime before in my life. It was kind of exhilarating. I rinsed my hands off in the employee sink, and then poured some cold coffee that had been sitting in the pot down the drain after the tinged water. I left the pot in the sink.

I dialed 911 on the phone in Patricia's office. While I was there, I checked to make sure everything had been left in order. I wondered what had been in the envelope she'd needed so badly - money? Documents? Whatever it was, she had saved my life by coming back to get it.

As I waited for the police to come, I wondered what would have happened if Patricia hadn't believed I would keep silent. After all, she'd had a gun in her purse, and she'd showed she wasn't afraid to use it. Then I decided there were paths I didn't need to walk, and that was one of them.

It was actually lucky for me that Will had hit me. By the time the room was swarming with police and emergency and library people, the whole left side of my face was swollen and blackening. The bruising had hardly healed from my mishap in the parking lot. I was going to forget what I really looked like. Blood and saliva had made a track down my chin where a tooth had cut the inside of my cheek. In the face of such graphic evidence, and the letter (which I never got to read all the way through) and Mark Chesney's testimony that Will had tried more than once to get Mark to give him the books to bring to the library, I was home free.

Airlifted to an Atlanta hospital, Will Weir lingered in a coma for four days. Then he died.

I had to endure a lot of silent sympathy from people who were sure a gentle woman like me would be harboring lots of guilt at having indirectly caused a death, even the death of someone who was trying to kill me.

I guess they just didn't know me very well.

If it ever crossed my mind to tell anyone about Patricia/ Anita, I sat on the thought as heavily as I could. I imagined her building a new life somewhere else, but I hoped in this new life she would cut Jerome some slack and let him wear Nikes.

Sam waited three more days, griping loudly about Patricia's inexplicable absence, before he called the police, who weren't too swift about telling the FBI. The FBI hopped right on it, fingerprinted the rental house (which had been cleaned, in the interim, by professional cleaners who'd been hired and paid in cash through the mail), fingerprinted the whole office (though by then the library janitor had done a jim-dandy job of cleaning the desk, under Sam's direction) and questioned the whole staff. In the end, they still weren't a hundred percent sure we'd encountered Anita Defarge.

How did Robin handle all this? After all, he'd been with me when I saw the picture. Somehow Robin realized that identifying Patricia Bledsoe was no high priority of mine. I may have whispered something to him to that effect in the dark of the night, the night I moved into my new house. And since he had his plate full testifying against Tracy, moving his stuff from California to the small house on Oak my mother found for him, and doing some rewrites on the script of Whimsical Death, Robin didn't ask any questions.

I like that in a man.

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