Real Murders Chapter 17


’’If I'd had my Dynamite Man Particle Blaster they wouldn't have hurt us,’’ Phillip whispered. He simply would not be parted from me while I was being patched up. He held on to my hand or my leg or my torso;though many kind people offered to take him and rock him, or buy him an ice cream cone, or color with him, my little brother would not be separated from me. This definitely made it harder on me, but I tried to have so much sympathy for Phillip that the pain would not seem important. I'm afraid I found that to me, pain is very important, no matter who else has been hurt.

Now he was actually in the hospital bed with me, huddling as close to me as he could get, his eyes still wide and staring, but beginning to glaze over. I thought he'd had some kind of mild tranquilizer;I thought I remembered saying that was okay. My father and stepmother were driving back from Chattanooga;

Robin, bless him, had found their phone number and called, miraculously catching them in their motel room.

’’Phillip, if I hadn't had you to hold on to, I would have gone nuts,’’ I assured him. ’’You were so brave. I know you were scared inside, like I was, but you were brave as a lion to hold yourself together.’’

’’I was thinking about escaping all the time. I was just waiting for a chance,’’ he informed me. There, he was beginning to sound more like Phillip. Then, less certainly, ’’Roe, would they really have killed us?’’ What was I supposed to say? I glanced over at Robin, who shrugged in an it's-up-to-you gesture. Why was I asking Robin what I should say to my little brother?

’’Yes,’’ I said, and took a deep breath. ’’Yes, they were really bad people. They were rotten apples. They were nice on the outside but full of worms on the inside.’’

’’But they're locked up in jail now?’’

’’You bet.’’ I thought about lawyers and bail and I shivered. Surely not? ’’They can't ever get you again. They can't ever hurt anybody again. They're far away and all locked up, and your mom and dad will carry you home even further away from them.’’

’’When are they gonna get here?’’ he asked desolately. ’’Soon, soon, as fast as their car can come,’’ I said as soothingly as I could, perhaps for the fiftieth time, and thank God at that moment my father did come in, Betty Jo right behind him and under rigid control. ’’Mama!’’ said Phillip, and all his hard-held toughness left him. He became an instant soggy puddle of little boy. Betty Jo swept him out of the hospital bed and into her arms and held him as tightly as he held her. ’’Where can I take him?’’ she asked the nurse who'd followed them in. The nurse told 4 her about an empty waiting room two doors down, and Betty Jo vanished with her precious armful. I was so glad to see Betty Jo take him I could have cried. There is no substitute for a real mother. At least I am no substitute for a real mother. The past few hours had certainly taught me that, if I'd ever doubted it. My father bent and kissed me. ’’I hear you saved his life,’’ he said, and tears trickled down his face. I had never seen my father cry. ’’I am so thankful you are both safe, I prayed in the car all the way here. I could have lost both of you in one night.’’ Overwhelmed, he sank into the guest chair Robin had quietly vacated. Robin stood back in the shadows, the dim room light glinting off his red hair. I would never forget how he'd looked with the shotgun in his hands. I was just too tired to appreciate my father's emotion. It was late, so late. I had almost been strangled by a bank loan officer with a green silk scarf. I had been hit by a secretary with a golf club. I had been terrified out of my mind for myself and my little brother. I had looked into the face of evil. Strong words, I told myself hazily, but true. The face of evil. Finally, my dear father dried his eyes, told me he'd see me very soon, and said they were taking Phillip home that very night. ’’We'll have to see about treatment for him,’’ he said apprehensively. ’’I don't know how to help him.’’ ’’I'll see you,’’ I mumbled.

’’Thanks, Aurora,’’ he said. ’’If you need help yourself, you know how to reach us.’’ But they were dying to get Phillip away, and his voice verged on perfunctory. I was a grownup, right? I could take care of myself. Or my mother would take care of me. I let myself have a flash of bitterness, and made myself swallow it. He was not being careful of me, but he was right. I drifted off to sleep for a second. Robin was holding my hand when I woke up. I think he had kissed me.

’’That felt good,’’ I said. So he did it again. It felt even better.

’’They were stupid really,’’ I said a little later. ’’When you think about it, yes,’’ Robin agreed. ’’I don't think they ever realized it wasn't a game when they began patterning the deaths after old murders. Bankston snatched Phillip on impulse when they should have waited and picked a victim from at least across town... if he'd really been intelligent, he would have known taking Phillip from the same place he himself lived, then keeping him in the townhouse instead of getting him out to Melanie's place... well, maybe they would've smuggled him out, but you started looking too soon, and they didn't even consider you having keys.’’

’’How did you know where we were?’’ I asked. It had never occurred to me to question our last-minute rescue.

’’When I saw Melanie pull back in, she acted strange,’’ he began. ’’I had started to wonder where you'd disappeared, too, and her coming back after she'd just left a few minutes before seemed peculiar. She'd gone home to get her tape recorder, you know,’’ he said, and looked away into the shadows of the room. ’’I ran around front I saw you weren't there searching, and decided there was only one place you could be. Really, I was just guessing,’’ he said frankly. ’’You had disappeared as suddenly as Phillip, there were no strange cars around, Melanie tried to act concerned about Phillip being missing but she wasn't, and she had that damn tape recorder. Perry Allison is very strange and maybe dangerous, but he's also obvious.’’ Robin reached down to take my hand. ’’I had to persuade Mr. Crandall in a hurry that we had to raid Bankston's place, but he was game. Even if I had made a mistake, he said, if Bankston was any kind of a man he would realize when a child and woman are missing, anything goes. Jed's a frontier kind of guy.’’

’’How'd you get in? Didn't Melanie lock the door behind her?’’ ’’Yes, but Mrs. Crandall had a key, the key she'd been meaning to bring over to you - I think she kept it because the former tenant used to lock herself out a lot.’’

I would have laughed if my side hadn't hurt so much. The emergency room doctor said I'd be able to go home in the next day or two, but my collarbone and two ribs were broken and I was bruised all over from tumbling down the stairs. There was a spectacularly ugly combination of bruise and scrape covering one cheek. My mother wanted me to come home with her, but I was going to tell her I'd rather be in my own place, I decided, depending on how sore I was in the morning. Mother had flown into the hospital with every eyelash in place but a wild look in those fine eyes. We had hugged and talked for a while, and she had even shed a few tears (certainly atypical), but when she learned that as far as I knew my apartment was sitting wide open and, for that matter, Bankston's as well since the police were still searching it, she decided I was well enough to leave and flew off to see to safeguarding my property and the disposition of Bankston's.

My mother was a friend of Bankston's mother, and she was terrified of seeing Mrs. Waites again. ’’That poor woman,’’ Mother said. ’’How can she live with having raised a monster like that? The other Waites children are fine people. What happened? He's known you all your life, Aurora! How could he hurt you? How could he think of hurting a child?’’

’’Who knows?’’ I said wearily. ’’He was having a great time, the time of his life.’’ I had no sympathy to spare for Bankston's mother, right now. I had no extra emotion of any kind to throw around. I was drained, exhausted, and in pain. I had bruises and bandages galore. Even Robin's kiss didn't make me feel lecherous, just raised the possibility that someday I might feel that way. He was picking up his jacket now, getting ready to go. ’’Robin,’’ I murmured. I seemed to be drifting down into sleep. He turned, and I realized that he was spent, too. His tall shoulders were stooped, the crinkly mouth drooping down at the corners. Even his flaming hair looked limp. ’’You saved me,’’ I said.

’’Nah, Jed Crandall saved you,’’ he said with an attempt at being off-hand. ’’I was just back-up muscle.’’

’’You saved me. Thank you.’’ And then I drifted down a long spiral into sleep. When I woke up again the clock said 3:30 a.m. Someone else was sitting in the guest chair, someone short and stocky and blond and fast asleep. Arthur's head was slumped forward on his chest and he was snoring a little. I'd have to remember that.

My mouth was dry and my throat sore, so I reached for the cup of water on the bedside table. Naturally, it was just out of reach. I wiggled painfully sideways, still stretching, but then Arthur handed it to me. ’’I didn't want to wake you up,’’ I told him.

’’I was just dozing,’’ he said quietly.

’’What happened?’’

’’Well, we found a box of - mementoes - at Melanie Clark's little rented house.’’

’’Mementoes?’’ I asked with dread.

’’Yes. Pictures.’’

I shook my head. I didn't want to hear more.

He nodded. ’’Pretty awful. They photographed Mamie and the Buckleys after they died. And Morrison Pettigrue. Melanie made advances to him, it turns out, and she got him to get undressed that way. Then she killed him, and let Bankston in, and they arranged him.’’

’’So they confessed?’’

’’Well, Bankston did. He was proud.’’

’’So they weren't like Hindley and Brady in the end.’’

’’No. Melanie tried to kill herself.’’

’’Oh,’’ I said after a moment. ’’Oh, no.’’

’’We had a watch on them both, so we caught her fairly quickly. She had taken off her bra and was trying to hang herself with it.’’ So grotesque, but at least it showed human feeling.

’’She was sorry,’’ I said softly.

’’No,’’ Arthur said definitely. Sharply. ’’She didn't want to be separated from Bankston.’’

There seemed to be nothing to say. I handed my cup back to Arthur, who put it on the beside table and automatically refilled it. ’’They were mad we hadn't found the weapon Bankston used to kill Mamie Wright. They were sure they'd planted it where we couldn't help but find it. It was a hammer they'd stolen from LeMaster Cane's garage, and it had his initials on it. But as it turns out, some kids had picked it up the same night they killed her, and the kids only got scared and turned it in tonight. Evidently Melanie and Bankston were going to use the golf clubs in the future. After you saw Bankston carrying them into his place - he'd just showered over at Melanie's after killing the Buckleys, and he was going to get the clubs out of his car at a time when he thought no one would be out and about at the apartments - he got scared and ditched the bag, the only distinctive thing about the set, the next dark night. But he kept one or two of the clubs on the off-chance he might need a weapon. Then you and Crusoe found the briefcase ... we fell down on that one. I don't mind telling you, we wondered about Crusoe for a while after that. Tonight I was ready to shoot him when I saw him charging into Waites's place with a shotgun, but Jed Crandall's wife was running out of her gate saying, ’’My husband and Mr. Crusoe have gone down in Bankston Waites's basement to catch the murderer!’’ I was half expecting to see Perry Allison down in that basement, standing over Waites's body, and yours, and Phillip's.’’

’’Where is Perry? Does anyone know?’’ It was Sally's call that had sent me running out in the dark soon enough to raise the alarm so Bankston and Melanie hadn't a chance to get Phillip away.

’’He's checked himself into a mental hospital in the city,’’ Arthur said.

That was undoubtedly the place for him, but it would be hard on Sally.

’’Benjamin?’’

’’We're sending him to State Psychiatric for evaluation. He also confessed to several other murders we'd definitely solved. Somehow finding Pettigrue's body unhinged him.’’

’’Oh, Arthur,’’ I said wearily, and began to cry for so many different reasons I couldn't count them. Arthur stuffed tissues in my hand, and after a while brought over a wet washrag and wiped my face very carefully. ’’I guess roller skating tomorrow night is off?’’ Arthur asked seriously. I gaped at him in shock until I realized that Arthur - of all people! - was making a joke. I couldn't help smiling. It slid all around my face, but it was a smile. ’’I've got to go back to the station, Roe. They're still sorting through the stuff they found in the search, and there's a lot we don't know yet. How Bankston got Mamie Wright to come to the meeting early. Why he let Melanie mail you that candy. He'd bought it for her and brought it back from some convention in St. Louis. But she had it in for you in a big way, and she thought you were the one who liked chocolate creams. That was the stupidest crime, since the typewriter's sitting in Gerald Wright's insurance office. We need to ask more questions, so we can back up these confessions with some solid evidence. Bankston has waived his right to have a lawyer present, but sooner or later he's gonna regret it and that'll be the end of the confession. Back to work for me.’’ ’’Okay, Arthur. I was glad to see you come down the stairs tonight.’’

’’I was glad to see you alive.’’

’’It was close.’’

’’I know.’’ Then he bent over and kissed me, and I thought I was getting to be quite a hussy.

’’I'll be back tomorrow,’’ he promised, and then he was gone, and for the first time in forever I was alone. I was exhausted to the bone, but I could not sleep. I was afraid to close my eyes.

I turned on the television to CNN, to find that I was on it. They were using a picture I'd had made when I joined the library staff. I looked impossibly sweet and young.

I was on the news. I'd be in the books when this case joined others in accounts of true murder cases. I had seen real murderers and I had almost been really murdered. That was something to ponder. I flicked the remote control to off. I thought of Bankston and Melanie coming into the VFW Hall that night, disappointed to see me, maybe, since they expected I would have received and eaten the chocolate by that time. And I could see them waiting, waiting, for someone there to go looking for Mamie Wright. I remembered how fresh from the shower Bankston had looked when he was carrying in the stolen golf bag the day the Buckleys had been slaughtered. He'd been so shiny and clean ... I had never, never suspected him. I heard Melanie's voice as she'd said, ’’I've always wanted to do this,’’ and kicked me. It was too close, too recent, I'd been frightened too deeply. Of course, this hadn't turned out to be a real puzzler, like the 1928 intrafamilial poisonings in Croyden, England, unsolved to this day. Was Mrs. Duff guilty?... or could it have been ... I drifted away in sleep.

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