Loralee, The Dimestore Novella
Chapter Eleven, That Wears the Crown
Originally published on September 6, 2012
The smell was enough that anyone driving by with their windows open or their air conditioner on would have noticed. Nevelle’s eyes seemed to glow in the dark as he glared at McCoy. It was never supposed to go down like this. Coagulated maroon pulp oozed from under the tarp. Dixon Roget was too heavy to be dragging around.
Nevelle was angry at himself. All the years of calculating, measured self-control, his careful plans, about to crash around him because of Donna Barlow. Because of Roxanne Carole. Because of Dixon Roget. Because of the sudden pangs of conscience of those too weak to take what was right in front of them. Nevelle knew he was lying to himself. Dixon Roget managed to somehow still smell faintly of Aqua Velva. Nevelle’s stomach rolled. There was no denying that this sojourn into the crisp, night air, was a result of his own carelessness.
Malcolm Montgomery. Family man. Malcolm had let all that land that James Nevelle needed so desperately. All those years of maneuvering and he’d let his ego get the better of him. Donna looked good that night. She’d worn that dress before, cheap, too snug. Nevelle had to admit to himself that maybe that was how he made himself feel better about things. Loralee had spurned his advances more than once, worse than that, she’d never bothered to tell Malcolm. An amazing woman like Loralee as his wife, and yet Malcolm kept playing house with Suzanne, keeping that apartment in Houston with the likes of Donna. Who could blame Loralee for seeking comfort elsewhere? Not that Nevelle approved of the company she’d been keeping lately, but he figured that would work itself out. Henry Wellsy. Nevelle thought it was laughable and then thought maybe he should check that, because what if they were really in love? That could be dangerous.
Nevelle cursed himself and tried to keep from taking Don McCoy apart. Shooting arrows into Dixon Roget to get him to talk was one thing, but he’d let the boys keep going at it after that. He knew better. They should have pulled the trigger long before they did. Thompson was squirrely, Don knew the boy shouldn’t have been there. Nevelle figured that the kid had been smart enough to get away, so he was probably smart enough not to become a problem.
They’d become comfortable, they’d gotten sloppy. Nevelle had wanted Donna simply because she was with Malcolm. Loralee had rejected him, but he could nail Donna, and maybe that would get under Malcolm’s skin enough to get a rise. She’d stepped outside, and he’d been close enough behind. The dress was almost too tight for him to get up under. He hadn’t been thinking right, and he knew it. But how in the hell could anyone have predicted that Roxanne Carole was weak in the knees for Malcolm too? It was that damn house of his, the ranch, the family dinners, Loralee in the society pages with her charity work, they all got wet over it. Suzanne was the only one who understood the game.
“Damn it, hold up your end.” Nevelle didn’t raise his voice when he was angry, he lowered it. McCoy grabbed his end of the tarp again, his phone started ringing. He looked at Nevelle for permission to answer it. “Well, go on,” Nevelle said.
“Yeah? I’ll let him know.” McCoy hung up his phone. “They just released Malcolm, the rest of the test results came back from the lab.”
Nevelle’s phone was ringing. “Hello?” he said, after the third ring. “Will they wait until morning? I had sex with her, so what. Well, what exactly did he tell them? Oh, I think you best find out.” Nevelle hung up, grabbed hold of his end of the tarp again. “Come on.”
McCoy grabbed the other end, and they heaved the body into the back of the truck. Outside of town, across a field that looked remarkably like the one where they had killed Dixon Roget, they pulled up to an old corrugated metal shed about the size of an average two-car garage. The house that sat in front of it appeared to be empty, though the hay barn next to it was full of hay. Two men, dressed in heavy coveralls and wearing gloves, waited inside with chainsaws and heavy cleavers. Nevelle and McCoy let them unload the leaking tarp into the shed. A train whistle moaned in the distance, two a.m.
Loralee clicked her phone off and didn’t say anything for too long a minute. “Malcolm is at the house. They waited until late to release him to avoid the press.” Loralee stood up like she was looking for something, she wobbled on her feet, sat back down.
“Why’d they cut him loose? Do you want to go to the house now?” Henry propped himself up on one elbow, grabbed his cigarettes from the nightstand.
“There’s no point. What for? We’ll drive to the house tomorrow.” She kept looking around and then laughed at herself. “I don’t know what I was looking for.” She lay down next to him again. “The labs came back, and Malcolm finally told them that Roxanne Carole was in the apartment that night, that she fought with Donna. They found skin under Donna’s nails. I knew it. Apparently, Donna, well, she must have been with someone else that night because the DNA wasn’t a match for Malcolm. They think that gives someone else probable cause to have drugged her.”
“They’d still hold him.” Henry sat up. “They’d still hold him because why didn’t he tell them about Roxanne Carole to begin with? Something ain’t right.”
“What do you mean?” Loralee looked up at him.
“I mean, he was in the room, the apartment when those bitches were fighting. There’s no way they’d let him go unless he gave them something, or else they’re using him.” Henry swung his legs over the side of the bed. “Get packed.”
“I don’t understand,” Loralee said.
“If he’s out, then Nevelle knows it too. The only way they let Malcolm go is either that Malcolm gave up a lot more information, or they let him out because they want someone to think he talked. If you weren’t with me, you’d go to the house right now. Would Billy go to the house tonight?” Henry was looking for his boots.
“You’re scaring me.” Loralee stood up.
Henry kissed her hard. He pushed her back on the bed and pushed her knees apart. “I don’t know when we’ll be together again.” Was all he said.
Loralee clung to him, wrapping her legs around him, burying her head against his neck. Soaked with sweat and having trouble catching her breath, she stumbled silently to the shower when they had finished, feeling every bit as though she had been taken by Henry, and she was spent.
She dressed quickly and just as quietly. They had yet to finish their truth-telling conversation. After the pointless meeting with Hardy Pattershaw, that Henry had deemed a fishing expedition, they’d spent the afternoon at the courthouse only to have Pattershaw request another postponement of Malcolm’s arraignment, pending the results of a possible tissue match since they claimed to have located Roxanne Carole. They ordered dinner in the room, and Henry started to tell Loralee that he was in all of this up to his neck, and she’d started to say something about a beauty pageant. He’d made a joke about the talent portion of the competition, lifted her up and pinned her against the wall. They’d woken up hours later, after, tangled in the sheets, her phone ringing.
“Loralee, I’m in this, this messed up business with James and Malcolm. I’m muscle. I’ve been whatever James has said because I was in deep before that, and he got me out of more than one situation. I went to work for Malcolm to find out everything I could about anything I could.” Henry pulled his boots on. Loralee stopped packing. She stood in the middle of the room, her face blank, her arms slack, straight down at her sides. “Don’t look at me like that. I didn’t use you, Elle. I didn’t know you. I didn’t figure you anything about Malcolm’s business, I know how men like him operate. I saw you at that party and then there at the house that morning, weeding your flower bed, just like I said. I wanted you. I love you, Elle.”
“Malcolm was one of the judges of a beauty pageant that I’d won. I was married at the time. I was young, really in love with Daryl, that deep, down, in your soul, take off in the middle of the night, kind of love.” Loralee walked across the room, sat down on the bed, and lit one of Henry’s cigarettes, coughed, kept smoking it. “But, you know, I had to get away from Daddy too, all us girls do. Anyway, well, at first, Daryl was all for it, the pageants. There was usually prize money, or a crown he could hock. Then he got jealous. He wasn’t very nice about anything after that. He’d disappear for weeks, drunk, gambling. We were done, it was already over, I just hadn’t figured out how to leave him yet.” She hit the cigarette hard. “I was in the parking lot, after this pageant, with Malcolm. We were leaning on each other, on the car, that was all really. Daryl showed up drunk with a gun. I shot him.” She put the cigarette out. “Daryl was going to shoot Malcolm. James called out to him, to Daryl, and Malcolm tackled him. I picked up the gun. They stopped fighting and stood up. I shot Daryl. He wasn’t nice to me. You know?”
“James was there?” Henry studied her face.
“James Nevelle was one of the other judges. So, you see, we all go way back together. I don’t know why he lied for me, but he did, both of them did. James has never said another word about it. They ruled it self-defense, almost on the spot, which it was, more or less. If I’d gone home with Daryl, it might have happened anyway, only later.” She shrugged. “That was my last pageant. It’s that big crown in the large case at the far end of the kitchen. We are some lot, aren’t we?”
“I figure James is trying to cover his tracks about now. We’ve got to go.” Henry said to her again, and she nodded.
“James wants the mineral rights. There’s oil under some of the property, they’ve been fighting over that for years, and there’s a mine. Silver. I don’t know what all this business is of the women and the drugs. I don’t understand how any of that got started.” Loralee was rambling, checking the room to see if they had missed anything.
Henry smiled to himself at that, that it hadn’t occurred to Loralee that James was setting Malcolm up. Henry was grabbing keys, room keys, car keys.
“Henry, what are we doing?”
“We’re staying calm. If Malcolm didn’t give them Don McCoy, we’ve got a chance.”
“Don?” The look on Loralee’s face was genuine, though not for the reason that Henry thought. Loralee knew that Don McCoy had been at the apartment in Houston that night, but Henry didn’t know that she knew it, she hadn’t told him. So, what was he talking about?
“Don was there that night. He got Roxanne out of the building.” Henry closed the door to The Garden Suite behind them.
Loralee didn’t say anything. She sat hugging her knees, staring into the night at the road ahead of them as she considered what horrors might await her at her own house. There were any number ways that Henry could have known that Don was there, that Don had taken Roxanne out of the apartment, but that meant that Henry had also known that Roxanne had been there, and hadn’t told her. When had he known it? From the beginning? Henry had been with her the night that Donna had died, at least there was that.
“You didn’t need to know. It was for your own good.” Henry didn’t look at her. He kept his hands on the wheel. “You didn’t really think that Malcolm was capable of killing someone, did you?”
“Why not? I was.” Loralee leaned her head against the window and closed her eyes. “I wouldn’t underestimate Malcolm, there’s a reason why he has everything that James wants.”
Henry laughed. It was so simple, it had never occurred to him. Malcolm was smarter, he simply had too much heart.
To read previous chapters of Loralee, click here.