Loralee: The Dimestore Novella
Chapter Five, Tangled Web
Originally published on March 8, 2012
His blood was spreading out around his body, not quite seeping into the poorly mixed concrete of the budget cut sidewalk at the bottom of the steps outside the police station. He looked to be in his late forties, handle-bar mustache, balding, with that wrap around kind of head cap of remaining hair grown too long, compensating. He was wearing what had been a white, short-sleeved, button-up shirt. The kind “every-man” wore to work in the 1970s. That’s what he looked like, a throwback in polyester pants and a pair of adult-sized Buster Brown’s with a matching brown belt. About five-foot-nine, everything about him said average, or mediocre, save one thing, the Kalashnikov kicked away from him, lying in the grass. It was an antique. They would find a newer Colt AR 15 HBar Sporter in the back seat of his truck, along with a snub-nose .38 under the front seat.
Henry and Loralee were escorted past this scene into one of the less intimidating briefing rooms where they were offered coffee and stale pastries, which they declined. Loralee sat in one of the plastic chairs at the long Formica topped table. Henry stood behind her, his hands resting on her shoulders, drawing disapproving looks from the family attorney, Hardy Pattershaw.
“That won’t help things. Pattershaw said under his breath.
“It’s helping her.” Henry’s voice was calm and firm. Henry’s tone said that he wasn’t budging.
“When they come in to talk to you, do not volunteer information. Answer only what they ask you; unless I object. Keep it simple, yes, no, I don’t know. Do not elaborate.” Pattershaw shuffled papers in and out of his briefcase. “They found Donna on the bathroom floor. They found traces of an animal tranquilizer in her system, but they are having trouble determining exactly what drug it is. Someone screwed up in the lab, already, and that’s in our favor. Donna was seen chatting it up with James Nevelle the night before.”
“Who’s the guy on the sidewalk?” Henry’s jaw felt to him like a rubber band stretched too tight.
“Have either of you ever seen him before? Anywhere?” Pattershaw leaned forward on the table, palms down, big-arm-lawyer pose. They shook their heads no. “Then I’ll let the police tell you, it’s better that we don’t discuss it. Loralee, was Malcolm having trouble with Nevelle?”
“Hardy, what do you mean? You know those two were always having trouble.” Loralee could feel a headache brewing. She thought some tequila would fix it.
“Anything specific? There’s talk of a mineral rights dispute.” Pattershaw turned, sat on the edge of the table. He wasn’t handling that case, the mine rights, it was out of his area of expertise.
“You know that’s been going on for years. The only thing Malcolm mentioned about it at all is that he was finally tired of it. He was talking about letting it go, getting out. I thought it was odd, unlike him. You know Malcolm would fight James to the death over a game of checkers. But he said that in passing, at Christmas. He seemed distracted. I had the holidays to deal with.” Loralee rested her hands in her lap to keep from wringing them. She felt like she was sitting in Sunday school with her ankles crossed so tightly that the buckles on her shoes were digging into her legs.
“They are holding Malcolm on suspicion of murder. Because of the drugs in Donna’s system, they are talking pre-meditation. How long had he been seeing Donna?”
“Shouldn’t you ask him that?” Henry already wanted to hit Hardy.
“I know what he said. I know what Loralee knows. How long?” Pattershaw was tall and thin, with a narrow, pinched face, all his features were elongated. Were it not for his perfectly straight Pepsodent smile and very square chin, he could have passed for Nosferatu.
“I had thought Malcolm started seeing Donna about a year and a half ago after he ended things with Suzanne. But now, according to you, he never stopped seeing Suzanne. So, I don’t know.” The reality of the mess was beginning to sink in.
“Malcolm says two years. I’m telling you that because he says it was at that Spring Founders Day Festival, you were there, so was Nevelle. Loralee, you danced with Nevelle. Suzanne was there too.” Pattershaw watched her face closely for a reaction.
“I have been dancing with James at those things for years. Malcolm says it keeps things from looking too vicious, that politeness, minding our manners like the civilized humans that we are. What is your point?” Loralee said.
“Loralee, have you had sex with James Nevelle?” Pattershaw barely got the words out before Henry’s hands were around his throat.
“Let him go, Henry. Let him go, he’s just doing his job.” Loralee said quietly, and Henry slowly loosed his grip on Hardy and backed away to the other side of the room. “No, Hardy, I have never had that kind of relationship with James Nevelle.”
“Sorry.” Henry ran his hands through his hair and shook a cigarette loose. “Don’t suppose we can smoke in here?”
Pattershaw slid an ashtray across the table to him. “It’s a police station, not a church. They figure smoking calms down people like you.”
Henry didn’t say anything, only lit a cigarette.
Pattershaw finished straightening out his shirt collar. “They are going to ask you things like that and worse than that if this goes to trial. Before it ever got to that, you’d have to tell me pretty much everything, how many affairs you’ve had, with who. Are you prepared for that?” He was asking Henry as much as he was asking her. Hardy took some 8×10 photographs out of a folder. He put them on the table in front of Loralee. “I’m showing you these because they are going to show them to you.”
They were pictures of Malcolm’s apartment. Loralee had never been in it, but she recognized the bedding she’d purchased. A crystal flower bowl on an entry table that looked familiar. The apartment had originally, allegedly, been so that Malcolm wouldn’t have to commute so often and then, for business associates from out of town, nicer than a hotel. They were pictures of the crime scene. Donna was lying on the bathroom floor, on her stomach, her head turned to the right, blood in a puddle around her cheek on the tile. Her lavender, shorty nightgown was jacked up over one side of her rear end, exposing white cotton underwear, as though some strange, indoor wind had caught it and blown it up as she fell. If she fell. There was blood on the edge of the toilet seat and spattered on the wall. She had slight bruises on her thighs, and several of her fake nails were ripped out or peeled back.
“Her nails…” Loralee said. Donna’s nails looked to Loralee like they had come off in a fight. Any woman worth her salt who’d ever had a manicure knew what it felt like when one of those acrylic nails came off. Donna’s had come off and taken her real nails underneath with them.
“What about her nails?” Pattershaw looked at the photograph. “They think she reached out at the wall, couldn’t stop her fall, hit her head on the toilet.”
“Looks to me like she got into a scrap.” Loralee looked at their attorney.
“I’m sure they’ll say that too. You, though, you keep that to yourself. We’re trying to make bail in the morning but may not be able to, depending on what they rule about the premeditation. If she had come back clean, they would have had to cut him loose. I’ve talked to Scorey, told him they will be out to the house with a warrant and nothing we can do about it. I’m pushing for them to search Nevelle’s place too, though he will likely have cleaned things up by the time they get out there.”
“You think Nevelle?” Henry asked, snuffing out another cigarette.
“What I think doesn’t matter, but maybe Nevelle, maybe not. It’s my job to keep Malcolm out of prison, regardless of the truth. Until this is over, that’s all our jobs, and we all need to be on the same page about that. Bill is trying to make financial arrangements. He has the keys to the apartment, didn’t think that you would want them. I don’t know if he’s told Janean, but I would assume so.” Pattershaw paused. “The only other thing is Suzanne. Loralee, Malcolm owned a house here in town, a small place. Bill knows about it. His name is on the deed. According to Suzanne, the affair was still going on. Malcolm says no, Bill supports this version of things. But, Loralee, there’s a child, a little boy two and a half years old…”
Loralee was on her feet, rocked on her heels once, and reeled toward the garbage can next to the door and vomited. Henry stayed where he was, his knuckles white, fingers gripping the edge of the table. He said nothing, afraid he would say what he was thinking and that had everything to do with killing Malcolm himself.
Loralee steadied herself and sat back down. “Go on, Hardy, get to it.” She wiped her mouth with a tissue that she pulled out from being tucked in at the wrist of her sweater sleeve.
“Suzanne listed Malcolm as the father on the birth certificate. He says he isn’t sure the boy is his, but Suzanne swears it, of course. She’s threatening lawsuits, paternity suit, child support, now. Malcolm never brought any of this to me before. Apparently, that was his way of protecting you, avoiding a scandal. If the boy isn’t his, it could save a lot of money. She’s in a panic because I told her that until further notice, she can stay in the house, but that she is otherwise cut-off.” Pattershaw clasped his hand around his knee and leaned back in the cheap plastic chair. “You about ready to let them in here?” He nodded towards the detectives who were hovering around outside the door. Windows inside buildings, police stations, hospitals, offices, they said, You have your privacy, but not really.
“What about the child, Hardy? We can’t be terrible, we can’t be ogres about the situation.” Loralee said.
“Loralee, Suzanne has been collecting welfare on top of what Malcolm has been giving her every month. She is driving a car that is newer than yours, and when you see the jewelry that she is dripping in, you well know, that boy isn’t going to starve. Let her work it out. It will give her something to do until we can get a paternity test.”
“Mind if we cut in here now, Mr. Pattershaw?” Detective Owen leaned into the room, holding the door open. He was followed by a Detective Krasnik and a uniformed officer whose name tag read Richardson. Officer Richardson’s presence was excused or justified, they said, by the earlier commotion between Henry and Hardy.
Detective Owen slid a picture across the table to Loralee. It was a mug shot of the man who was lying on the sidewalk in front of the station. “Have you ever seen this man before today? Do you know who he is?”
“No and no,” Loralee said flatly.
“Do you recognize the last name there, on his publicity still?” Detective Owen pointed with his middle finger. Why did men do that?
“I think that’s Donna’s last name.” Loralee looked at him. She didn’t like him.
“We picked him up on a DUI a couple of years ago. His name is Chesterfield Barlow. Some name, isn’t it? Apparently, his few friends, guys at work, guys at Jack’s Tavern, they all called him Bert. His middle name is Berton. Bert Barlow, B-B- what begins with b.” The detective pushed the words through his lips as though he liked the sound of them. “Bert was a weapons collector, a sometime-small-time dealer in antique guns. Generally, he worked on the rigs, drank at Jack’s, and lamented over where his wife Donna was spending her nights.”
No one said anything. Henry had taken a seat next to Loralee, his hand resting on her thigh under the table.
“Bert identified Donna at the morgue. Then Bert went home, wrote a note for his two grown kids from a previous marriage, kids he hasn’t seen since they were toddlers, he loaded his guns and drove over here. Bert walked in, went to the front desk, wanted to know where we were holding Malcolm. Before we managed to subdue Bert, out front there, he grazed a receptionist and got a clean shot at a young Officer Tobias. So, I’m not happy today, Mrs. Montgomery, and I’ve got some questions for you.” Detective Owen smiled at her.
Loralee said nothing.
“To begin with,” Detective Owen smiled again, “who is your very familiar friend here?”
“Henry Wellsy, I work at the ranch,” Henry answered, his voice low.
“Oh, I bet you do pal, but I asked the Missus, not you.”
“His name is Henry Wellsy, he works at the ranch.” Loralee smiled at him, her most ardent, beauty queen smile. It was the smile that garnered forgiveness and extra and more and cuts in line and worked on the school principal when her kids had gotten in trouble.
“Mrs. Montgomery, are you engaged in a sexual relationship with Mr. Wellsy?” Detective Owen sat down, opened a manila folder, switched gears, all business.
“I am.” Loralee sat up straighter.
“Were you aware of your husband’s affair with Donna Barlow?”
“For how long, how long have you been aware of his relationship with her?” He kept looking at the folder.
“For about eighteen months.” Loralee rested her hands on the table in front of her, her wedding ring painfully visible.
“Seems you and Mr. Montgomery have quite a tangled web.”
“Was there a question in that?” Pattershaw said to Owen. “Let’s move it along, shall we?”
“Mrs. Montgomery, what is the nature of your relationship with Hardy Pattershaw?” Detective Owen kept his eyes on the folder.
“Mr. Pattershaw is our family attorney. We have a business relationship.” Loralee was trying not to think about the possibility of having to answer these questions again in a courtroom.
“For how long and has Mr. Pattershaw ever attended social functions at your home?”
“Mr. Pattershaw has been our attorney for twenty-five years. He has attended social functions at our home.” Loralee looked at Hardy. She wouldn’t have said they were friends, but they were.
“Were you friends with Mrs. Pattershaw?”
“This is irrelevant.” Pattershaw remained calm at the mention of his late wife. Deandra Pattershaw had passed away some seven years prior, Ovarian Cancer. Loralee ran a charity in her name.
“So it is.” Detective Owen shuffled papers. “Had you ever met Donna Barlow?”
“I may have. I know that she was at a function eighteen months ago before I had any knowledge of a relationship between her and my husband. I meet a lot of people at those events. I may have been introduced to her in a reception line.” Loralee wondered if that was saying too much.
“When did your husband leave Sugar land and come into Houston, this trip?”
“We don’t live in Sugar Land. We’re farther out, Rosenberg area. But, he left about a week ago.” Loralee didn’t want to say it had been Christmas. She didn’t want to say that Christmas was the only reason Malcolm had been home.
“Oh, that’s right. I’ve never been out there. Believe that? Rail town, wasn’t it? Santa Fe line?” Detective Owen shuffled papers, again. “You own a ranch? Is that your primary source of income?”
“Mr. Montgomery’s source of income is real estate. You know that. The ranch is simply our family home.” Pattershaw checked his watch.
“I wanted to know if Mrs. Montgomery knew it. You don’t have much to do with your husband’s business dealings, do you? I mean, you know what he does, but you don’t know that much about the actual business of it?”
“Be more specific, please, Mr. Owen.” Pattershaw creased his brow.
“Do you keep tranquilizers, animal tranquilizers, at the ranch, Mrs. Montgomery?” Detective Owen said.
“Do you know what type?”
“You would have to ask Scorey Timmons for specifics, but I know we sometimes keep Etorphine and Diazepam, with proper authority,” Loralee said.
“What about Ketamine, stronger things like that?” Detective Owen looked up at her.
“No, sir, I don’t believe so.”
“What about you, Mr. Wellsy, do you know what they keep at the ranch, tranquilizer wise?” Detective Owen didn’t look up from his papers.
“I don’t work with the animals, but so far as I know, it’s what she said.” Henry wanted to hit every one of them, right in the face.
“What do you do at the ranch, Mr. Wellsy?”
“I maintain the vehicles, fix fences, general carpentry one way or another.” Henry was unintentionally squeezing Loralee’s thigh.
“So, you’re not a real cowboy then, are you, Mr. Wellsy? Not a real ranch hand?” Detective Owen didn’t look up.
“Does that work? Real cowboy?” Henry smiled at the attempted insult. He didn’t want to laugh, but he couldn’t help it.
“You’d be surprised.” Detective Owen went on. “Mrs. Montgomery, did you know about Suzanne Martin?”
“Did I know what about Suzanne Martin?” Loralee was becoming agitated.
“Did you know about your husband’s affair with her, that she had a son with him? That he’s been keeping house with her here in Houston?”
“I knew about the affair. I found out the rest of it today.” Loralee could feel tears forming, she was already worn out, and this was all just getting started.
“You didn’t know Suzanne Martin is living in a house here in Houston that is owned by your husband, and your son, I might add, and that she has a child by your husband, that he was giving her money every month?” Detective Owen was looking at her now. He sat up, leaned back in his chair.
“No.” Loralee looked back at him. Her carefully fabricated world crumbling with each newly revealed detail.
“Mrs. Montgomery, I find that difficult to believe. How is that possible that you didn’t know?” He tapped his pencil.
“You don’t have to answer that.” Pattershaw shook his head at her.
“I find it hard to believe too, but according to the two of you, it is none the less true.” Loralee wiped her eyes.
“Have you ever met Suzanne Martin?”
“Many times.” Loralee laughed.
“Like her?” Detective Owen smiled.
“No.” Loralee smiled too.
“Mr. Pattershaw, there is one more thing, and I apologize that we weren’t able to share this with you prior, but our men found these in Barlow’s truck while you were in here with Mrs. Montgomery and Mr. Wellsy. We need to know if Mrs. Montgomery can identify the other couple in these photographs.” Detective Owen handed another folder to Pattershaw, who showed no expression as he looked through the contents.
“The man is Dixon Roget’, out of Louisiana, Baton Rouge area, real estate. Owns a property there that Malcolm was looking at. I don’t know who the woman is. I don’t think Mrs. Montgomery will know either.” Pattershaw looked at Detective Owen in a way that Loralee would have described as hateful. “You’ve asked Malcolm?”
“We have. We need her to look.” He took the folder from Pattershaw. “Mrs. Montgomery, did you know that you were under surveillance? Nothing too official, but apparently, Mr. Barlow owned quite a good camera. Not to worry, you’re very discreet. All Mr. Barlow managed to get of you, and Mr. Wellsy is the two of you entering and exiting Mr. Wellsy’s house and closing a lot of curtains the last few months, it looks like. Your husband, however, was less careful.” Detective Owen paused. “Mrs. Montgomery, I’m sorry you have to look at these, but there is a third woman in these photographs. If you can identify her, it would speed things up. Unfortunately, there’s only one clear photo of her face.”
“Oh, my God.” Loralee gasped, she felt all her blood drain to her boots with the shock.
“Evil bastard.” Henry was looking too.
“Do you know who she is?” Krasnik spoke for the first time since entering the room and introducing himself. “They just bring me in here in case we need to do good cop, bad cop.” He winked at Loralee, and she felt a creepy shiver crawl up her spine. “Do you know the girl?”
Loralee thought to lie just then, and then she thought better of it. If this was the wash, then it was all going to come clean anyway so might as well tell the truth, if the subject of the truth came up when asked directly. “Her name is Roxanne Carole. She was on the senior dance team with my daughter. They weren’t exactly friends, but Roxanne was at the house once or twice. I’ve never seen the man she is…sitting on…before.”
“You’re sure? Roxanne Carole? Was your husband at the house when Roxanne visited?” Detective Owen was leaning forward like he was about to launch off the edge of his chair.
“What’s this about, Owen? I think I’m going to have to ask you to stop right there until I have an opportunity to discuss this with my client.” Pattershaw was putting his papers away. “I’ll want copies of those.” He said of the photos.
“Your man said he knew her only as Roxy. He didn’t want to talk about her, Pattershaw. I’m going to ask the D.A. to go for no bail until we locate these players. We’ve got him on the watch, and we’re going to want to talk to everyone, including you, alone, at some point, Mr. Wellsy, and you again, Mrs. Montgomery, your daughter too. You folks try to have a good night. We’ll be in touch.” Detective Owen, and company, exited the room.
“I need to talk to Malcolm, Hardy, I have to talk to him.” Loralee wanted to wring his neck. Their daughter’s friend? And when had anyone ever called her Roxy?
“Loralee, that isn’t a good idea right now. He knows you’re here in Houston. I’m afraid something might get said between the two of you that will turn into a situation. Not a good idea. I need to talk to him first.” Pattershaw said.
“I could choke him, Hardy. This is going to destroy Jan.” Loralee was furious.
“Let me do what I need to do. We should seriously consider hiring someone to spin this our way, damage control. I’ll need help with this, and it isn’t going to be cheap. I’ll talk to Bill. We will need to sit down in the morning, you need to call Janean. Things are going to start happening fast for a while and then keep happening faster while everyone tries to get to things first. Do you understand?”
“She’s exhausted, worried about her kids. What are we talking about? She doesn’t know anything else.” Henry was standing, his hands on Loralee’s shoulders again, protecting.
“All right,” Pattershaw sat his briefcase down, scratched at the corner of his mouth. “This is how it is, a wealthy, married couple, both having affairs, both have had numerous affairs, one dead girlfriend, pictures of what looks to be a poolside orgy involving a twenty-one-year-old former high school dance team member, that’s drill team, right? And they just don’t call it that anymore? An acquaintance of the daughter of the accused, no less, and a businessman from out of town who looks to be in his early fifties, and your husband, and Donna, James Nevelle, and if I’m not mistaken, Suzanne Martin, who, allegedly has a child with Malcolm. Malcolm, who has given her a house, been giving her money every month. Then we have photographs of the two of you carrying on. I’m guessing the white house is yours, right? Henry? And then, the dead woman’s husband, Mr. Barlow, killing an officer before being shot himself, after running around spying on everyone, coming here to kill Malcolm, over his poor, dead, cheating wife. What part of this are you two not understanding?”
“Jesus. When you put it like that.” Henry’s jaw went slack.
“When I put it like that, you’ll be lucky if you get from the door to the car without being accosted by reporters. I guarantee you that while we are sitting here doing this, Owen is finding this girl. If you need alcohol, stop at a liquor store on the way to the hotel, pay cash for it, do not order it from room service. Order everything else from room service. Do not talk to anyone. Do you love her? Because I know her and I got a pretty good idea that she probably tried to warn you. Do you love her?”
“Yeah, yes, I do.” Henry nodded. Loralee was shaking her head, tears rolling down her face.
“Take her to the hotel and keep the vultures away from her.” Pattershaw took a deep breath. “Loralee, you’ve got to call Janean, warn her. Tomorrow I want to talk to you both, tell her to bring her yearbooks with her. I need to know everything you can tell me about Roxanne Carole.”
“Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” ~ Sir Walter Scott, from his work, Marmion
For previous chapters of Loralee, click here.