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Authors: Charlaine Harris

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BOOK: (LB1) Shakespeare's Champion
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“Is that what you want?” Claude said. His voice was very quiet.

Truth time. “I want to see you if you’re going to be my friend, but I don’t see us becoming lovers. I don’t think that’s right for us.”

“And if I do?” I could see the distance growing in his eyes.

“Claude, I feel comfortable when I’m in your company, but if we have sex that’ll be ruined. I don’t think we can carry this to another dimension.”

“Lily, I’ll always like you,” he said after a long pause. “But I’m at the age and disposition where I’m thinking, I can’t be in law enforcement forever. I want a wife, and a home, and someone to go camping with, someone to decorate the Christmas tree with. That was what I was thinking might happen with you. As I hear it, you’re telling me it’s not gonna.”

God, I hated explaining my emotions.

“I can’t see my way to that, Claude. I just can’t make that leap with you. And if I use up your time trying, you might miss something better.”

“Nothing can be better, Lily. I may find something different, something good. But nothing better.”

“So,” I said quietly. “Here we are in Montrose, have to drive home, have to be with each other. We should have done this in Shakespeare, huh? Then you could go over to your apartment and I could lock my door and we could lick our wounds.”

“I wish I could believe that you have wounds to lick, Lily,” he said. “Let’s go look at some books.”

the restaurant discussion, the bookstore wasn’t much fun.

I read biographies, mostly; maybe I’m hoping I’ll find the key to make my life lighter by finding out how someone else managed. Or maybe I loved company in my miserable past; I could always find a tougher life than mine. But not tonight.

I found myself thinking not about Claude and myself, but about Darnell Glass.

I glanced at the true crime books, which I cannot stomach any more than I can watch the news on television.

No one would ever write a book about Darnell Glass.

A beating death in Arkansas, especially the beating death of a black male, was not newsworthy, unless whoever’d killed Darnell got arrested and generated some lurid publicity—if the murderer was one of the local ministers maybe, or if Darnell’s death was the first escapade of a flamboyant serial killer.

I had managed to make my way through the newspaper account. The Shakespeare paper did its best to defuse tense situations, but even its brief references to the young man’s long list of injuries made my stomach lurch.

Darnell Glass had suffered a broken jaw, five broken ribs, multiple arm fractures, and the blow that had mercifully killed him, a crushing strike to the skull. He had suffered massive internal injuries consistent with a determined beating.

He’d died surrounded by enemies—in rage, in terror, in disbelief—in an unremarkable clearing in the piney woods.

No one deserved that. Well, I had to amend that thought. I could think of a few people I wouldn’t weep over if they met an identical end. But Darnell Glass, though no saint, was a very smart young man with no criminal record, whose worst crime (apparently) was a bad temper.

“Let’s go,” I said to Claude, and he looked surprised at the shortness of my tone.

All the way back home I kept silent, which Claude perhaps interpreted as regret. Or sulking. Anyway, he gave me a brusque cheek peck on the doorstep that had a sort of chilly finality to it. It seemed to me, watching his broad back retreat, that I’d never see him again. I went inside and looked at the flowers, still beautiful and sweet. I wondered if Claude regretted sending them now. I almost pulled them from the vase to throw away. But that would have been silly, wasteful.

As I prepared for bed, thankful to be alone, I wondered if Marshall’s charge was true. Was I a cold woman?

I could never see myself as cold; self-protective, maybe, but not cold. It seemed to me that underneath the surface, I was always on fire.

I tossed and turned, tried relaxation techniques.

I got up to walk. It was chilly outside now, midnight in late October, and it was windy; before morning it would rain again. I wore a T-shirt, a sweatshirt, sweatpants, and Nikes, all dark shades: I was in a hateful mood, and didn’t want anyone to see me. The streetlights at each corner of my street, Track Street, were dispensing their usual feeble nimbus. Claude’s window was dark, as was every window in the apartment building; an early night for tenants old and new. The Shakespeare Combined Church, or SCC as the members called it, was dark except for some security lights. There was very little movement in the town, period. Shakespeare rises early and goes to bed early, except for the men and women who work the late shift at one or two of the fast-food places, and the people who work nights at the mattress factory or the chicken processing plant, which run round the clock.

I went as far as the lower-middle-class neighborhood in which Darnell Glass had grown up, one of Shakespeare’s few mixed-race areas. I passed the little house Glass’s mother, Lanette, had bought when she moved back to Shakespeare from Chicago. It, too, was dark and silent. None of these homes had garages or porte cocheres, so it was easy to see Lanette Glass was not at home.

But I found out where she was.

She was at Mookie Preston’s house.

While I’d been thinking about my curious cleaning stint at Mookie’s that day, I’d drifted in that direction without conscious thought. So I was opposite the house when Lanette Glass emerged. I wasn’t close enough to see her expression, which the deep shadows of the streetlight behind her would have made difficult anyway, but from the way she walked—shoulders hunched, head shaking slightly from side to side, purse clasped hard against her side—Lanette Glass was a woman in trouble, and a troubled woman.

More and more I wondered about the purposes of the mysterious Mookie Preston.

As a cold breeze stirred my hair, I felt some of its chill creep down my spine. Something was brewing in Shakespeare, something sick and dangerous. I’d always felt comfortable about the state of race relations in my adopted town. There were still taboos, plenty of them, probably several of which I wasn’t even conscious. But there were also blacks in managerial positions, blacks who owned comfortable homes. Several clubs and one church were integrated. The public school system seemed to be functioning with little friction, and Lanette Glass was only one of many black teachers.

The habits and prejudices of over a century weren’t going to vanish overnight, or even in thirty years; and I’d always felt that progress, quiet and slow, was being made.

I wondered now if I’d been in a fool’s paradise. I had assumed that my approval of this change was shared by most people of both races, and I still thought so. But something evil was slithering through Shakespeare, had been for months.

Perhaps three weeks after Darnell Glass had been killed, Len Elgin had been found shot dead in his Ford pickup, on a little-traveled country road just within the city limits. Len, a prosperous white farmer in his fifties, was a genial and intelligent man, a pillar of his church, father of four, and an avid reader and hunter. Len had been a personal friend of Claude’s. Failure to solve Len’s murder had been eating at Claude, and the rumors that spread like wildfire had made handling Len Elgin’s death investigation even more delicate.

One school of thought had Elgin being killed in retaliation for the death of Darnell Glass. Of course the guilty parties, in this version, would be black extremists, even as Glass’s death was ascribed to white extremists.

Another rumor had it as fact that Len was being unfaithful to his wife, Mary Lee, with the wife of another farmer. According to this rumor, the murderer was either Mary Lee, the other farmer (who was named Booth Moore), or Moore’s wife Erica. Those who accused Erica were assuming that Len had terminated their relationship.

Somehow the fight—The Fight—in the Burger Tycoon parking lot had triggered all this.

We were all losing our sense of community; we were subdividing into groups not only by race but by the degree of our intensity of feeling about that race. I thought about the ugly scrawl on Deedra’s car. I thought about Tom David Meicklejohn’s scarcely concealed glee that September night in the parking lot. I remembered glimpsing, through the windows of the limousine following the hearse, Mary Lee Elgin’s face as the funeral cortege passed by. And then, banal in its wrongheadedness, but no less vicious for its banality, the sheet of blue paper under Claude’s windshield wiper.

Surely it was stretching credulity to think that Del Packard’s death in the gym was totally unrelated to the deaths of Darnell Glass and Len Elgin. How could three men be done to death in a town the size of Shakespeare in a space of two months and the killings all be mysterious? If Darnell Glass had been knifed behind a local bar during a fight over a girl, if Len Elgin had been shot in Erica Moore’s bed, if Del had been in the habit of lifting alone and maybe had some undiagnosed physical weakness…

I was making another circuit by the apartments. I looked up at Claude’s window, thinking sadly about the man inside. Would I change my mind about what I’d said, given another chance? I was genuinely fond of Claude, and grateful to him, and he had a lot on his shoulders.

But that was his chosen job. And Darnell Glass’s death had taken place in the country, so that investigation was Sheriff Marty Schuster’s headache. I didn’t know too much about the sheriff, except that he was good at politicking and was a Vietnam veteran. I wondered if Schuster could calm the rising storm that was rattling Shakespeare’s windows.

I had to walk another hour before I could sleep.

Chapter 4

A chilly autumnal gray rain. I’d slept a little late since I’d had such a hard time getting to bed the night before. I’d have to hurry to make it to Body Time. Before I dressed, I poured myself a cup of coffee and drank it at the kitchen table, the morning paper unopened beside me. I had a lot to think about.

I worked out without talking to anyone. I drove home feeling a lot better.

I showered, dressed, put on my makeup, and fluffed my hair.

I wondered if the black-haired man had been out walking in the night, too.

As my car lurched slowly along the driveway that led to the back of the small Shakespeare Clinic, an uninspiring yellow brick office structure dating from the early sixties, I was betting that Carrie Thrush would be working today.

Sure enough, Carrie’s aging white Subaru was in its usual place behind the building. I used my key and called “Hi!” down the hall. Carrie’s clinic was depressing. The walls were painted an uninspiring tan and the floors were covered with a pitted brown linoleum. There wasn’t enough money yet for renovation. The doctor had massive debts to pay off.

Carrie’s answer came floating back, and I stepped into the doorway of her office. The best thing you could say about Carrie’s office was that it was large enough. She did a lot of scut work herself, to save money to pay back the loans that had gotten her through med school. The doctor was in black denims and a rust-red sweater. Carrie is short, rounded, pale, and serious, and she hasn’t had a date in the two years since she’s come to Shakespeare.

For one thing, she’s all too likely to be interrupted in any free time she might manage. Then, too, men are intimidated by Carrie’s calm intelligence and competence. At least that was what I figured.

“Anything interesting happen this week?” she asked, as if she wanted to take her mind off the heap of paper. She shoved her brown chin-length hair behind her ears, resettled her glasses on her snub nose. Her beautiful brown eyes were magnified many times by the lenses.

“Becca Whitley, the niece, is living in Pardon’s apartment,” I said, after some thought. “The man who’s taken Del Packard’s place at Winthrop Sporting is living in Norvel Whitbread’s old apartment. And Marcus Jefferson moved out in a hurry after the Deedra Dean car-painting incident.” I’d seen the U-Haul trailer attached to Marcus’s car the morning before.

“That was probably a good move,” Carrie said. “Sad though that state of affairs is.”

I tried to think of other items of interest. “I ate out in Montrose with the chief of police,” I told her. Carrie hungered for something frivolous after being a sober, God-like decision-maker all week.

“Is that the niece everyone was talking about, the one he left everything to?” Carrie had fastened on the first item. But she would get around to all of them.

I nodded.

“What’s she like?”

“She’s got long blond hair, she wears heavy makeup, she works out and takes karate, and she probably features in the wet dreams of half the guys she meets.”


“Don’t know.”

“Has she rented out Marcus’s apartment yet? A lab tech at the hospital is looking for a place to live.” Shakespeare had a tiny hospital, perpetually in danger of being closed.

“I don’t think the dust has had time to settle on the windowsill yet. Tell the lab tech to get on down there and knock on the apartment to the rear right.”

“So what’s with the chief? He show you his nightstick?”

I smiled. Carrie had a ribald sense of humor. “He wants to, but I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“He’s been hanging around you for months like a faithful hound, Lily. Cut him loose or give in.”

I was reminded yet again of how much people in a small town knew about you even when you tried to keep your life private.

“He’s cut loose as of last night,” I said. “I just enjoy his company. He knows that.”

“Do you think you can be comfortable with him now?”

I thought of a quick answer and a longer truer one. I sat down in one of the two patient chairs and said, “It was possible until Claude started talking about the Darnell Glass lawsuit.”

“Yeah, I hear Mrs. Glass is talking to a lawyer from Little Rock about bringing a suit. You’d be a witness, huh?”

“I reckon.”

“Tom David Meicklejohn is such a jerk.”

“But he’s Claude’s jerk. She’d be suing the Shakespeare Police Department, not just Tom David or Todd.”

BOOK: (LB1) Shakespeare's Champion
9.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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