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Authors: Ellen Byerrum

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General

Shot Through Velvet (27 page)

BOOK: Shot Through Velvet
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“Congressman Flanders wanted to talk to you in person,” Claudia said.
“So there is no confusion to my meaning,” Flanders began. “This is the only time I plan to talk about the tragedy in Black Martin, at Dominion Velvet, or about Rod Gibbs—other than in my prepared statement, which will be issued by my staff later today.” He handed her a single sheet of paper on his congressional letterhead. “Here’s an advance copy for you, and I’ll answer any questions you might have. You have a scoop, Ms. Smithsonian.”
She quickly scanned the release. Politicians’ news statements were routinely issued as late in the day as possible, after most of the print media’s deadlines had passed, but miraculously just in time for the broadcast news. Lacey knew that game well. Broadcast anchors would simply regurgitate the congressman’s press release, and no hard questions would be asked until the next print news cycle. It was another daily example of how politicians and their press secretaries used the media. But he owed Claudia a scoop, because they were partners, and presumably friends.
What more are they to each other?
Lacey wondered how her publisher had gotten mixed up with such odious men—Rod Gibbs, Walt Pojack, and now Tazewell Flanders.
“What happened to Rod Gibbs is obviously a tragedy, Lacey,” Flanders said. “It highlights issues of job creation I’ll be talking about in my campaign for governor.”
“So you really are running for governor of Virginia?”
“Yes.” He smiled a smug little smile. “You heard it here first, Lacey. But it’s not official yet.”
Smart politicians always tried to remember the reporter’s name and use it in every other sentence, to make the reporter feel they were sharing some special intimate connection.
Ick.
“Rod Gibbs was a friend of yours?” she asked.
“No, Rod Gibbs was not a friend.” Flanders said it a little too fast. “That is, we were associated through our business partnership in the factory. You might call that a case of—strange bedfellows. The truth is—” The congressman paused. “I’m from Black Martin myself and I have strong feelings for my hometown. We three tried to help keep the factory alive, keep those jobs alive. If not with velvet, then with some new high-tech industry at the plant. We were looking at every possible option. But the economy went south on us at the worst possible time.”
“New industry?”
“If we’d found a compatible use, we hoped to update the factory to produce something more technologically advanced than velvet. It would have cost money, but there are state and federal grants for that sort of thing.”
“But what about the velvet?” Lacey remembered the shimmering rolls of velvet and felt a pang of loss.
“Velvet is too expensive to manufacture here anymore, Lacey. Rod Gibbs was supposed to deliver a new business plan. Unfortunately, we sank a lot of money into it, and it didn’t pan out. None of his plans ever did. Now Rod is dead.”
“What kind of business were you looking at?” Lacey asked.
“It’s pointless to discuss that now.”
“Did he produce a business plan?”
“Several of them. Unfortunately, not one of them was viable,” Flanders said.
“How long have you been involved with the factory?’
“For about five years. That’s when I bought my shares, along with Claudia.”
“How did you get involved with Dominion Velvet?”
“I got a call from Gibbs, who informed me that some of the family’s shares would be coming up for sale. It was a way to have a voice in the leading industry in the town where I grew up.”
“And you trusted Rod?”
His jaw clenched. “I had no reason not to trust Rod Gibbs, not at that time. He was an old . . . associate. Our fathers were once, ah—friends. It sounded like a good business opportunity, a chance to give something back to the community.”
Claudia set her cup down. “We knew that if we acted as a bloc we could direct factory policy and provide some oversight. The factory had only absentee ownership for so long. We, the three of us, believed it needed local control, to save local jobs.”
“So that leaves us with the question, who wanted him dead?” Lacey asked.
Flanders looked to Claudia. His lips twitched again.
“Rod could be difficult to deal with, but I had no idea how much he seemed to enjoy bullying people,” Claudia said.
“Rod Gibbs was a hard man to like,” Flanders added. “But that does not excuse this barbarous murder. I’m sure the state police, in their investigation, will find the perpetrator. I won’t be speaking about this ongoing investigation in my campaign. It’s tragic, but it’s in the past. I’ll be talking about the future of Virginia, Lacey. It’s time for all of us to move forward.”
“But this thing might not be over. Some of the workers I talked to thought the killer might be some kind of avenger for their lost jobs. They say the killer isn’t finished.”
Why not yank his chain a little?
she thought.
See if he’s up to speed.
“That’s preposterous. This was clearly some sort of personal grudge against Gibbs. It has to be.”
“Do you think it will be damaging to your campaign for governor of Virginia to be involved in this?”
“I am
not
involved in this, Lacey. This unfortunate situation has nothing to do with me or my campaign for Virginia’s future. But I do believe the Commonwealth of Virginia should establish a task force to explore how we can get our economy back on its feet and create more jobs, and as governor I will lead that effort. Our people, like our skilled workforce in Black Martin, are our state’s most important resource,” Tazewell Flanders said, sounding just like a sound bite for his campaign.
This meeting, it appeared, was not just the congressman’s way of dealing with Rod Gibbs; it was a warm-up for a gubernatorial campaign speech. Was he just trying it out on her?
Do politicians never stop politicking?
Lacey sighed. She knew the answer.
“I’m curious, Congressman. Why didn’t you speak to our political reporter, Peter Johnson?”
“The man’s a dunderhead,” he said bluntly. Claudia ducked her head and hid a smile. “Off the record.”
His first unguarded comment
, Lacey thought.
And right on the money.
“I agreed to see you, Ms. Smithsonian,” he continued, “because Claudia assured me you are an intelligent and balanced reporter. She said you have a unique, nonpolitical perspective.” Flanders started to look over Lacey’s head. He checked his watch.
“I want to make it clear that everything Tazewell says here is on the record,” Claudia interjected.
He gave her a pained look, but he nodded. “Except that
dunderhead
remark.”
“Will you be attending the funeral?” Lacey asked.
“I’m trying to clear my schedule, but I don’t know if it will be possible.” In politician-speak, that meant the congressman planned to be as far away from Black Martin and Rod Gibbs’s funeral as he could possibly be. Another galaxy, if one were available.
“Do you know Honey Gibbs?”
He took a moment before answering. “I know the family. Not that well. I sent my condolences to the widow.” Meaning the congressman’s staff sent them.
“I understand you offered to build Black Martin a new high school gymnasium if you’re elected governor. With your own money, if necessary.”
Flanders had inherited his money. He’d never actually held a job, except in Congress, which many people, even in Washington, would say doesn’t quite count. He shrugged. “Perhaps that was premature. But the town needs something to cheer them up.”
“And it would cheer them up to have a new gym?” Lacey thought it was one of the sillier things she’d ever heard.
That week.
“Wouldn’t more jobs cheer them up? If they had jobs, they could vote on a school-bond issue and build their own gym.”
“Jobs are key, Lacey, but the gym is outdated. Small towns bond over high school sports. It builds community. We’ll be looking into every possibility to keep Black Martin a viable community.”
The gym idea probably also had something to do with his own high school athletic career as a football jock.
Maybe they’ll name the gym after him.
Flanders looked at his watch again.
Lacey knew he had said what he came to say, and perhaps a bit more: It was a shame about Rod Gibbs, but let the cops worry about it. He wasn’t going to the funeral, and his campaign for governor was a hell of a lot more important than one dead blue guy. And a town full of lost jobs.
Let them drown their sorrows in high school sports.
“Just one last question, Congressman Flanders,” Lacey said. People usually relaxed when she indicated the interview was ending. “Where were you when Rod died?”
He looked startled. “That is impertinent, young lady. However, for the record, I was with my political advisers that night. A strategy meeting. Claudia can tell you. She was there.” Lacey looked to Claudia, who nodded.
“And a follow-up question. Have you received a blue velvet ribbon in the mail?”
“What? Why would I get something like that? Is it a charity thing of some kind?” His puzzled look said he took this to be just one more sympathy ribbon, like pink ribbons for breast cancer, or yellow ribbons for loved ones in the military.
Claudia stepped in. “One came in my mail yesterday, Tazewell. Postmarked Black Martin. It could be a joke.”
“Not very funny,” Flanders said.
“Or it could be from Rod Gibbs’s killer,” Lacey said. That brought a moment of silence to the group.
“I’ll check with my staff,” Flanders said at last. “They sort all my mail. I only get what I need to see. I’m looking for a blue velvet ribbon, is that it? Is there a note of some kind?”
“I didn’t receive a note with mine,” Claudia said. “I wouldn’t have thought much about it, but Lacey thinks it might be important.” Flanders sighed again, exasperated.
“Rod Gibbs was tied onto the spool with strips of velvet,” Lacey explained, “rather like velvet ribbon. The ribbon in Claudia’s mail matched the Midnight Blue color that Gibbs was dyed. It might be a threat. Or just a prank.”
“Very well. I see your point. I’ll have someone check and get back to you at
The Eye
. Just so you both know, I think this is ridiculous.”
Claudia turned to Lacey. “Thank you for coming, Lacey. I’ll see you at the office.”
Dismissed again.
Lacey was used to it.
She looked back over her shoulder as she left the library. Claudia and Tazewell Flanders were putting their heads together in a tête-à-tête.
Lacey heard him say, “You can’t be serious, Claudia. . . .”
Chapter 25
The fading February sun cast a pale gold light through the windows of the newsroom. Lacey was filing her follow-up story, revealing that Gibbs was shot before he was dunked in the dye vat. The medical examiner confirmed that he did not drown. Rod Gibbs was already dead when he was dyed blue. Lacey added a sidebar with Congressman Flanders’s comments
The sky was deepening, and a chilly night was settling on the fading day. Lacey leaned back in her chair and watched as lit windows in neighboring buildings created tableaux of workers getting ready to go home, comforting in their sameness, their everydayness. She became aware of heads around her swiveling at the sight of Vic striding into the newsroom. He wore the leather jacket that Lacey had bought him for Christmas.
Lacey caught her breath at the sight of him, a little click of the heart, and hoped he would always affect her that way. He noted her look and smiled back, lighting up his face.
“Vic, I didn’t think I’d see you today.”
“I was in the neighborhood. Figured I’d drop by before I head to Black Martin tonight.”
“But—” It looked like Lacey would be driving down alone tomorrow.
“I need to talk to Turtledove and see how things are going, and I want to be on-site early, with the funeral first thing in the morning. Want to get some coffee? I might have some food for thought.”
“Sounds appetizing. How about some real food? I haven’t eaten yet.”
“Your wish is my command.”
“If only.” Lacey laughed at the thought. She noticed Wiedemeyer listening in on their conversation. “Hello, Harlan.”
“Ah, love is in the air. The pint-sized archer of
amour
unsheathes his arrows.” Wiedemeyer drew an invisible bow and shot an invisible arrow at Vic. “Bull’s-eye. Cupid strikes again, straight through the heart. You’re doomed, Victor Donovan. I’m doomed. All men are doomed by their ladies’ love. We’re the lucky bastards, wouldn’t you say? Doomed to love!”
“What’s wrong with him?” Vic asked Lacey.
“Something in the coffee,” Lacey answered. “Or the cookies.” Felicity’s second treat of the day. The food editor was cooking on all burners, and there seemed to be no slowing her down.
“Love,
amour, amore
.” Wiedemeyer trundled into Felicity’s cubicle and drew heart shapes in the air. Felicity balanced a large tray of Valentine cookies and giggled as they kissed. This afternoon’s delicacy was pink-iced, heart-shaped cookies with chocolate filigree on top. There were also arrow-shaped cookies with red frosting.
Lacey wondered how much time it took to produce the mountains of food that Felicity brought in every day. Sure, it was “research” for her column, but this was ridiculous. It was a full-scale sugar and carb attack. With the stress Lacey was under these days, it was getting harder and harder to resist.
“We’re engaged.” Felicity flashed her diamond solitaire for Vic’s inspection.
Like he didn’t know.
“Seize the moment, Donovan. Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. None of us is getting any younger. Someone could come after you with a rack of daggerlike elk antlers.” Wiedemeyer helped himself to one of Felicity’s cookies and gestured with it between bites. “Love is grand.”
“Elk antlers?” Vic looked baffled.
Lacey grabbed her purse and coat and Vic. “Dinner, darling. I never did get lunch. Remember?”
BOOK: Shot Through Velvet
6.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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