Shakespeare's Landlord Page 11

"I hear you know Marshall Sedaka," Friedrich said abruptly.

The comment was so unexpected that I actually looked at him directly.


"He was down to the station this morning, talking to Dolph Stafford. Dolph tells me he inherits that business now that Pardon Albee's dead. Pardon had a lot of irons in a lot of fires."

I raised both hands, palms up. What of it?

"No one here knows much about Marshall," Friedrich commented. "He just blew into town and married Thea Armstrong. No one could figure out why some man hadn't snatched Thea up years ago, her being so pretty and smart. Marshall got lucky, I figure. Now I hear he's moved out of the house, got himself a little rental place on Farraday."

I hadn't known where Marshall was living. Farraday was about three blocks away. I reached in the refrigerator, got out a container of soup I'd made over the weekend, and put it in the microwave.

It was a long two minutes until the timer beeped. I propped myself against the counter and waited for the police chief to go on.

"Pardon Albee was killed by one hard blow to the neck," Friedrich observed. "He was struck first on the mouth, and then got a crushing blow to the throat."

I thought of how strong Marshall is.

"So you're thinking," I said as I ladled soup into a bowl, "that Marshall dumped Thea for me and killed Pardon Albee so he'd own his business, now that he doesn't have Thea's twelve-thousand-dollar-a-year salary from SCC?"

Friedrich flushed. "I didn't say that."

"That's the only point I can grasp from all this. Could you tell me any other implication I might have missed?" I stared at him for a long moment, my eyebrows raised in query. "Right. Now, here's something real. Investigate this." I held out the handkerchief, plain white, with a design of white stripes of different widths running around the border. Inside the handkerchief were the bumpy shapes of the gun and the handcuffs.

"You want to tell me about this?" Friedrich said.

Briefly and, I hope, unemotionally, I described what had happened at the Drinkwaters' that morning.

"You didn't call us? Someone was in the house with you and you didn't call us? Even if you were all right, what if they took something of Mel and Helen's?"

"I'm sure nothing was taken. I know everything in that house, and nothing was out of order. Nothing was rummaged through, or moved out of place, no drawers left open."

"You're assuming that these items were left by someone who knows about what happened to you in Memphis."

"Isn't that a logical assumption? I know you've found out. Have you told anyone?"

"No. It wasn't my business to do that. I did call the Memphis Police Department a couple of days ago. Like I said, I remembered where I'd heard your name - after I thought about it awhile. I've got to say, I'm kind of surprised you didn't change it."

"It's my name. Why would I change it?"

"Just to avoid anyone recognizing it, wanting to talk about what happened."

"For a while, I thought about it," I admitted. "But they'd already taken enough away from me. I wanted to keep at least my name. And then ... it would have been like saying I had done something wrong." And I glared at Friedrich in a way that told him clearly he was not to comment. He sipped his tea thoughtfully.

I wondered if Pardon had known the truth about my past. He'd never even hinted as much to me, but he had been a man who liked to know things, liked to own a little piece of the people around him. If Pardon had known, surely he would have hinted around to me. He wouldn't have been able to resist it.

"So, did the Memphis police send you a report of some kind, something on paper?" I asked.

"Yes," he admitted. "They faxed me your file." He put his hand to his pocket, asked me if he could smoke his pipe.

"No," I said. "Where'd you leave the fax?"

"You think someone at my office has spread this around? You yourself haven't told anyone in this town about what happened to you?"

I lied. "I haven't told anyone. And whoever left these on the steps at the Drinkwaters' house knows I got raped, and knows the circumstances. So the knowledge had to come from your office, as far as I can tell."

Claude Friedrich's face darkened. He looked bigger, tougher, mean. "Lily, maybe someone has known since you moved here. Maybe they've just had the good taste not to mention it to you."

"Then they lost their good taste with a bang," I said. "You need to go. I have to work out."

He took the handkerchief, handcuffs, and gun with him when he left. I was glad not to have them in my house anymore.

Normally, I don't work out on Thursday nights, especially when I've already gone to Body Time in the morning. But the day had been one long accumulation of fear and anger, interrupted by the boredom of everyday work. I needed to do something to relax my shoulders, and the punching bag didn't appeal to me. I wanted weights.

I pulled on a pink spandex shorts and bra set, covered it with a flowered T-shirt, grabbed my workout bag, and drove to Body Time. Marshall doesn't work on Thursday nights, so I wouldn't have the emotional strain of seeing him while he was still trying to digest what I'd told him.

Derrick, the black college student who picks up the slack for Marshall in the evenings, waved a casual hand as I came in. The desk is to the left of the front door, and I stopped there to sign in before going over to the weight benches, unzipping my gym bag as I walked. There were only a couple of other people there, both serious bodybuilders, and they were doing leg work on the quad and calf machines and the leg press. I knew them only by sight, and after returning my nod, they ignored me.

The rest of the building was dark - no light in Marshall's office, the doors closed on the aerobics/ karate room.

I stretched and did some light weights to warm up, then pulled on my weight-lifting gloves, padded across the palm and with the fingers cut off at the knuckle. I pulled the Velcro straps tight.

"Need me to spot?" Derrick called after I'd done three sets. I nodded. I'd done twenties, thirties, and forties, so I got the fifty-pound dumbbells from the rack and sat on one of the benches, lying down carefully with a dumbbell in each hand. When I felt Derrick's presence at my head, I checked my position. The dumbbells were parallel with the floor and I was holding them down at shoulder level. Then I lifted them up and in until they met over me.

"All right, Lily!" Derrick said. I brought the dumbbells down, then back up, fighting to maintain my control. Sweat popped out on my face. I was happy.

By the sixth repetition, the lift had begun to be a struggle. Derrick gripped my wrists, helping me just enough to enable me to complete the move. "Come on, Lily, you can do it," he murmured. "Push, now." And my arms rose yet another time.

I put the fifties on the rack and got the fifty-fives. With a great deal of effort, I lay down on the bench and struggled to lift them; the conventional wisdom at the gym is that the first time is the hardest, but in my experience, if the first time is really difficult, it's likely all the succeeding lifts will be tough, too. Derrick held my wrists as my arms ascended, loosened his grip as my arms came down. I lifted the fifty-fives six times, my lips pulled back from my teeth in a snarl of concentrated effort.

"One more," I gasped, feeling that treacherous exhaustion creeping through my arms. I was so focused on making my lift that until the dumbbells were triumphantly in the air, I didn't realize that the fingers helping me were ivory, not black.

I held the lift until my arms collapsed abruptly. "Going down!" I said urgently. Marshall moved back from the bench, and down came the weights, though I managed to stop short of dropping them from a height. I made a controlled drop, letting my bent arms hang down either side of the bench and releasing the dumbbells so they hit the rubber mat without rolling.

I sat up and swung around astride the bench, so pleased with my set that I overcame the anxiety of seeing Marshall for the first time after my true confessions session. Marshall was wearing what I thought of as his working clothes, a tank top and exotically patterned muscle pants from the line of exercise clothes clients could order through the gym.

"What happened to Derrick?" I asked, reaching for my gym bag to extract my pink sweat towel.

"I've been cruising all over town looking for you."

"What's wrong?"

"Have you been here all evening?"

"No. I got here... oh, thirty or forty minutes ago."

"Where were you before that?"

"At my house," I said, an edge coming into my voice. If anyone had been asking but Marshall, I would have refused to answer. The big room was very quiet. For the first time, I noticed that we were alone.

"Where's Derrick?" I asked again.

"I sent him home after your fifty set. Was anyone at your house?"

I stared at him while I patted my chest and face dry.

"What's your point?" I asked.

"Lily, about an hour and a half ago, someone came in Thea's back door while she was in the living room and left a dead rat on the kitchen table."

"Yuk," I said in disgust. "Who on earth would do something like that?" Suddenly, the dime dropped. "You think - " I was so outraged, I was sputtering for words, and my hands tightened into fists.

Marshall sat astride the other end of the bench; he reached over to put a finger to my lips. "No," he said urgently. "Never, I never thought so."

"Then why the questions?"

"Thea ... she has this ..."

I'd never heard Marshall flounder before. He was acutely embarrassed.

"Thea thinks I did it?"

Marshall looked at the blinds drawn over the big front window, closed for the night. "She thinks it might be you," he admitted.

"Why?" I was bewildered. "Why on earth would I do something like that?"

A flush spread across Marshall's cheeks.

"Thea has this idea that we're separated because of you."

"But Marshall... that's just crazy."

"Sometimes Thea is - crazy, I mean."

"Why would she think that?"

Marshall didn't answer.

"You can go back and tell Thea - or I will be more than glad to do it myself - that I had an unwelcome visit from the chief of police, at my home, until right before I left to come here. So I have what you might call a golden alibi."

Marshall drew a breath of sheer relief. "Thank God. Now maybe she'll leave me alone."

"So explain. Why would she think you two separated because of me?"

"Maybe I mentioned your name once too often when I was talking about karate class, or people who work out here."

Marshall's eyes met mine. I swallowed. I was suddenly, acutely, aware that we were alone. I could never remember being alone with Marshall before, truly alone in an empty building. He reached out and flicked the light switch, leaving us only in the light that came through the blinds from the street. It fell in stripes across his face and body.

We were still sitting astride the bench, facing each other. Slowly, giving me plenty of time to get used to the idea, he leaned forward until his mouth touched mine. I tensed, expecting the flood of panic that had marked my attempts to have a close relationship with a man during the past few years.

The panic didn't come.

My mouth moved against Marshall's, welcoming. He slid closer, his legs going under mine until I lifted mine to wrap around him, my feet resting on the bench behind him. My arms went around his back and his hands were behind my back, pressing me to him.

Maybe it was the unexpectedness of it, maybe it was the unthreatening setting, or maybe it was because I had known Marshall as a friend first, but suddenly what had been so difficult became easy and urgent.

Marshall's hand lifted my T-shirt over my head. He had already seen the scars: I didn't have that moment to fear. I pulled off his tank top, my hands shaking. His tongue moved in my mouth. My hands ran over his torso for the first time. He pulled up my athletic bra and my breasts popped out; his tongue found a new target. I made an anguished little sound as a part of me I'd thought was atrophied came surging back to life. My hands conveyed my urgency, and after a moment, I stood, still straddling the bench, to work down my spandex shorts. He kissed my stomach as I stood before him, and then his mouth slid lower. In seconds, I rested one knee on the bench and turned to take my shorts off, and I heard cloth rustling in the darkness. Then bars of light fell across Marshall's heavily muscled bare body. In a few moments, Marshall was kneeling at the end of the bench while I lay back on it, filled with him, and the words he was whispering made me very happy, and everything worked beautifully.

Chapter Seven

I woke up cheerful, a condition so rare, I didn't even recognize it for a few minutes. I stretched in the bed, feeling a little sore in a most unusual way for me. Since I had had such a good workout the day before (and I smirked to myself when I thought that), I decided to do some push-ups at home rather than trek in to Body Time. I turned on the coffeepot and went into the room with the punching bag, then hit the floor and did fifty quick ones. I showered quickly and pulled on some loose-cut jeans and a T-shirt, my ordinary working clothes.

I have never figured out how other women think they are going to fight -  or clean house - in skintight jeans.

After retrieving my paper, I sat down for some cereal and coffee. I was conscious all the time of being extraordinarily relaxed and pleased, a mood so unusual, I hardly knew how to handle it.

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