The Symbiotic Club
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents
are either the product of the author's imagination or are used
fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events
or locales is entirely coincidental.
This work contains adult themes and is not intended for children.
Chapter 16 - The Deceptions
On my first trip to Vegas, Bob Dalton asked a cabby if he gambled. The driver answered that he played the ponies. Dalton asked him if he won. The cabbie responded that he did overall, and proceeded to illustrate by recapping his week, except he had difficulty getting the numbers to show a net gain. It seemed he was attempting to deceive us and perhaps himself. At the time, I felt some pity for him, but a year later, I took pause to wonder if the cabbie, and his pony picks, was all that different than the rest of us and the game of life.
On returning from Lake Tahoe, I was in high spirits. With money in my pocket, I was looking forward to seeing Mary graduate the following month and to beginning the remainder of our lives together. My inability to advance in my profession remained a source of irritation, but I figured two out of three wasn't bad.
When I arrived at the club that Monday afternoon, the parking lot had only two vehicles. One was Kati's Monte Carlo and the other was Coach's pickup. I thought it might be worth waiting to see if others came
The coach was tired of waiting. "Hunter, where've you been? Come on upstairs and deal some blackjack."
I didn't respond to his challenge; I simply took the stool next to him.
"Can I get you a drink?" Kati asked looking up from a book.
"No thanks. What're you reading?"
"My criminal justice."
My surprise must have shown. I recovered with what I thought was a reasonable question, "Are you planning to be a law-enforcement officer?"
"I plan to be a lawyer. This is my junior year. I'm doing alright. I have a 3.2, overall, and a 3.7 in my major, Criminal Justice. I had a practicum in the D.A.'s office last year, and I hope to get an internship there or in Tom Bruce's office before I graduate. I think that I am going to make it as a lawyer, too."
I was sorry that I had asked. The information only raised questions that couldn't be asked directly: Did she play dumb to ingratiate herself with Buster, or had it become habitual with her?
Then, she changed the topic to the poor attendance at the dances. "You're a dancer, too, ain't you? You used to dance with that slut, Drake, some. You two were pretty good together."
"Why'd you call her a slut?" The question was out before I knew it.
"You, uh, ... ," she started.
I braced myself. I could just hear a replay of my conversation with the drunk friend of Judy Bernard.
But, then, she continued with a different tone. "Ah, shit! That's just a word for a woman. That's the way us girls talk. I'm sorry. You probably still got feelings for her. I shouldn't have said it. I just thought you were now with the Professor's daughter."
"I am. I take it that she made your practicum unpleasant?"
"Now, I didn't say that. I'd be happy to get that internship even with her as the D. A."
I wondered if she may have been Freddy's source for the affair between Wanda and Tom Bruce.
That weekend, I drove to Tallahassee. With me I had the transcripts from the Martin rape case which hadn't been easy to secure. Mary showed little interest at first. It wasn't until I was preparing to leave that she read them.
"The minister here, the character witness, isn't even Mitch's minister. These women aren't people I know either. They certainly aren't the friends I'd expect to testify. They really did want to keep it hushed up! "
"The media coverage never went past our paper, and that was minimal."
She looked at me and narrowed her eyes. "You could actually be right."
"Yes, I may be. It's not much, but Henry was able to check with the dealer, one of his clients, and Mitch's truck had, and still has, the same tires as found at the scene. And, he failed to find one of Rose Ann's favorite lockets that she wore around her neck."
Monday morning, I had completed all my routine chores and was preparing to go to the university to talk to the coaches about their perceptions of the coming year when my extension buzzed.
At first, I didn't recognize the voice, "I understand that the circle is again having dances."
"Yes, that's correct," I responded with hesitation.
"I am sorry, Russell, you don't know who this is." By then, I did know. "This is Wanda Drake."
"Yes, hello, how are you?"
"I'm fine, and you?"
"I'm doing very well, thanks."
I waited for her to advance the conversation. I thought, "How things had changed in a year! Is she now actually providing the opening that I desired so much at that time?" I remembered the face she had permitted me to see on the dance floor. She had needed love then and wouldn't allow me to give it.
"Good, good." She paused. "I know that you're fairly seriously involved with the Miller girl, and I don't want to start any problems for you in that regard, but I wondered if we might still dance together some. You asked me once if I needed a friend. I know I wasn't very polite to you then. I'm truly sorry for that because I needed one then, and I need one now."
I felt the need to express willingness, but couldn't find the right words.
She continued, "Perhaps I've made a mistake. I'm sorry I bothered you."
"Wait. You caught me by surprise. I'm not negative. You were definite before. You've got to appreciate my difficulty in answering your question now."
"Yes, and I do. You want to think about it and call me back?"
"No, it's not time that I need; I need to know more. Why did you decide to call at this time? What made you change your mind?"
"Yes, those are things which I thought we could talk about at the dance."
"Well, I guess that's a possibility if you're basically only looking for someone to dance with; or, do you actually want to talk?"
Now the silence was at her end.
"Do you have something else in mind?"
Her delay had given me some time to consider my feelings. My motive was primarily curiosity, I decided. Why had she called? Why had my offer of friendship finally been accepted?
Finally, I asked, "Would you want to just meet somewhere and talk?"
We met at the club the next evening at 7:00. When I arrived, Wanda was sitting in the empty lounge, at a table near the rear. She wore a silk dress of navy blue with a pattern of roses spaced across it. It clung to the mounds of her breasts. I realized that it was the first time that I had seen her in a dress.
She looked soft. She stood and extended her hand as I approached the table, "Russell, I'm so glad you came." She looked at me but I didn't see tenderness in her eyes.
"You didn't need to stand." I took her hand. It was warm. She gave my hand a gentle squeeze and she smiled.
As we were sitting, I did notice that the flowers complemented her hair and the dress accented her figure. The rose of her makeup, brighter than her normal earth tones, contributed to the total effect. The image contrasted with her professional one, but still gave no indication of any vulnerability. Still, I felt she needed help. I was confused by the effect.
"How have you been?" I asked.
"I've been working long hours. Being the District Attorney carries heavy responsibilities."
"Is the work what prompted you to call me at this time?"
"No, well, perhaps it contributes. You probably know that I'm now involved with Rooster Martin, Mitchell Martin's uncle."
"Mitchell speaks well of you, by the way. I take it that you've interviewed him."
"Well, we visited together on the trip up to Alabama."
"Yes, and he appreciates all the help you've provided in advancing his chances with the pro scouts."
"He told you that I've helped him? Believe me, I haven't done anything in that regard. I've just done my job."
"Yes, he knows the power of the press. You have praised highly his play. That's contributed to the scouts visiting. I'm sure he'd like to be your friend also. You know the Martins are very generous people. This is a slower time for you, right? You have more freedom in the stories you cover? It might be a good time to do a feature on our star pro prospect. It's just a thought."
"But, that has nothing to do with our meeting tonight?"
"No. No, well, you know, if you and Mitchell were friends, it'd make it easier for us to be friends."
"You volunteered. You saw the need and offered the help."
"Why now? Why not then?"
"Then I was riding high, I thought, with my hand on the brass ring. I thought I was on my way to the top. Then, Bruce decided to put me in my place, and Rooster entered my life. That was great, but not all great. I felt the need for a friend and thought of you."
"But, you've been seeing Rooster for months. Why now?"
"Yes, it has taken time for me to reach out, but you've got to give a girl her pride."
She looked at me as she paused. The set of her lips indicated that she hadn't finished the thought; the set of her eyes suggested that she was uncertain about its completion. "It took me awhile to accept that I should and that I could settle for just your friendship. If, if the offer was still available."
I didn't miss the implication behind the words. Yet, I didn't respond to it. It was easy for me to interpret my lack of response as proof that the torch was extinguished. However, another realization danced across consciousness, which, as words, was, "She is multidimensional. I'm seeing a different presentation of her than I've seen before."
Still, it was a presentation. Somewhere in the fringes of my cognitions, I was aware that her voice today wasn't from the persona of the Wanda who first responded to my offer of friendship.
Finally, I said, "Yes, I understand things seemed to be going well for you last year, but we both know that you needed a friend even then. Why were you so cold?"
She lowered her head before she spoke. "Yes, my response was unfeeling and I am sorry for that."
"Fine, but that doesn't answer the question. Something was bothering you. That's what we're here to talk about, isn't it?"
She shrugged her shoulders and drew in her lips and then nodded her head, "Yes, I guess I do want to tell you sometime. Perhaps, there is no time like the present. While I was in law school, I was involved with this guy. He was from a rich family; I mean they were fabulously wealthy. It wasn't that I was after his money or anything. We talked about getting married when we graduated. Well, to make a long story short, when he took me home to meet his family, they did not approve, and he dropped me. The experience left me bitter. I was determined to show them, to show the world I could make it own my own. I wanted to prove I was strong, that I didn't need help from anyone."
I nodded my head in understanding.
"It's related to my involvement with Rooster. I have a memory, a foreboding, if you will, when I'm with any of the Martins."
"You feel a strong need to please them? It's difficult for you to relax and be yourself?"
She reached over and touched my hand, "I knew you'd understand."
I could feel Kati's glare as we left the lounge.
I knew the risk in my being Wanda's friend. I had no thought of keeping it from Mary; in this town, I couldn't have accomplished it if I had tried.
My best course of action was to call her that night and tell her before she heard it from others. It wasn't an easy call to make.
"Wanda Drake came to the club to talk to me."
"She did, did she? What did she want?"
"It seems she thought she could influence me to help Mitch Miller with the pro scouts."
"Really? Hey, we might be able to use that to get the goods on him. Do you have any plans in that regard?"
"No, not really. Your Dad did say you might help."
"I believe I can once I'm out from under all this academic nonsense."
The Millers and I attended Mary's graduation ceremonies. We loaded all of her stuff into a rented trailer and Mary and I followed as her parents pulled the trailer north. En route, Mary told me her plan. I felt little confidence in my ability to play my part, but I agreed that it represented our only hope for learning the truth about Martin's involvement in Rose Ann's murder.
Mary soon had arranged a double date with Beverly and Mitch. We went to a Braves game. He drove his family's Lincoln Town Car and insisted that I sit up front so that we could visit. Following Mary's script, I told him that he had the talent, but needed to be stronger, tougher. Identifying these weaknesses seemed to have the desired impact. His jaws locked and he accelerated. The Lincoln flew down the freeway.
"Of course, we have a box up there," he told us when we got to Fulton County Stadium, "but I thought it'd be more fun out here with the fans, as few as they are."
"These seats are great," said Beverly.
"Yeah, Michie," said Mary, "there's no need to impress us."
The game was error filled and the day was hot. We consumed many beers.
At the urinal, I said, "In terms of what you told me off the record, do you have any trophies?"
"You know, most men like to collect trophies from their conquests: locks of hair, panties, whatever."
"I have my share, just from the special ones."
"I'd like to see sometimes."
"Tell you what, we'll go by the hunting cabin on the way home and I'll show them just to you. We'll have to send the girls out on a hike to see the waterfalls or something. No way can we let Bev or Mary know."
"You actually saw the locket!" said Professor Miller, Clyde as I had started calling him. "You're sure it's the one?"
"Yes! It's the same locket. It was on a chain, a broken chain."
"So, we have proof that he did it," said Mary.
"Well, for us, but we don't actually have the proof. It's a shame you couldn't have taken a picture of it!"
"Yeah, like James Bond," I said. "But, that's a little out of my league. I did well just to get him to show me his collection."
"The collection?" he asked. "There may have been other victims?"
"Well, other seductions. We have no way to know which may have been willing."
"You think the sheriff won't get a warrant and go in and get the locket?" Mary said.
"I don't think we can trust the sheriff. That office has shown susceptibility to influence and the Martins define influence in the county."
"I wonder if his finger prints are on it. If we could get it someway," said Mary.
"No, unless it's found on his property and also had Rose Ann's prints on it, the prints would only say he touched it at some point. As far as that goes, they could say we planted it."
"What about your friend, Wanda Drake?"
"I'm not sure we can trust her any more than the sheriff. She's seems very committed to pleasing the Martins. She probably sees them as her train to success," I said.
Clyde nodded at me and said, "Still, I think she's your best bet. If you can appeal to her sense of duty or justice or whatever, she could do the right thing. If she's part of the search, it'd be more difficult for an underling to conceal the evidence."
I had no difficulty getting an appointment with Wanda despite her busy schedule and was escorted directly to her inner office. Her coat hung on the coat tree in the air conditioned office. She walked around her desk and took my hand. She wore a white semitransparent blouse, tailored gray trousers and two inch heels. I noticed a smooth curve beneath the unbuttoned blouse as she led me to a tan upholstered couch.
"I saw Mary's picture in the paper. She's going to make a lovely bride. Rooster hasn't move nearly as quickly as you have, assuming that he's moving in that direction at all." She smiled.
I simply returned the smile.
"Have you been to the club lately?"
"No, not much."
"Just been leaving it in Kati's care?"
"Yes, I guess. Speaking of Kati, do you think you'll provide an internship for her?"
"Heavens no! I'm sure that Bruce'll take her on. Just between the two of us, she's responsible for his divorce. Tom thought that she was dumb, that he could use her as he wanted. She's not dumb. He got his little amour but it cost him his marriage and probably this office."
I didn't ask if she had anything to do with Tom's wife learning of the affair. Instead I said, "You never know about some people."
"True, true, but to more positive things: I heard that you went to a game with Mitchell. I was pleased to hear it; it'll make it easier for us to ... well, see each other." She smiled again.
"Okay, well, that does bring us to the reason I'm here. You remember, of course, the murder of Rose Ann Ruth and, also, Mitch's trial for rape."
"Yes, of course, but what do the two things have to do with each other?"
"Well, mostly, missing jewelry. You remember that Mitch ripped a necklace from that coed's neck. Rose Ann's body didn't have a necklace that she usually wore. Mitch showed me both necklaces, among others, that he has collected from women over the years."
Drake stood and walked behind her desk.
"That's a very serious accusation, Russell. Of course, if it were true that Mitch seduced Rose Ann at some point in time, it wouldn't mean that he killed her, you know."
I stood and walked to the front of her desk. "The tires on his truck match the prints found at the murder scene."
"Huh?" She looked me in the eyes. "If he did it, and I'm not saying I think he did, it would still be a difficult case to make even with verification that the necklace was Rose Ann's. They could say you planted it the day that Mitch allegedly showed it to you."
Strangely, I felt, she smiled at me again, put her hands on her hips, leaned forward continuing to look me in the eyes. "Russ, please let me think about this for awhile and, perhaps do some snooping around on my own. I'll handle it the best I can. Is that alright?"
She came around the desk, took my arm and walked me to the door. Before opening the door, she turned toward me and looking up, said, "I do really enjoy having you ... as a friend. Let's do remain close even after you get married."
With that she opened the door and instructed her assistant to show me out.