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 21 - The Payoff
Clyde was waiting when we deplaned in Atlanta. Our surprise and disappointment showed. We weren't ready to end the honeymoon.
"Rooster Martin asked that I be here to greet you - well, actually to fetch you. He needs ... well, he seems to think that you, particularly, could help him and ... the family."
"What is it, Clyde?"
"Well, okay, they found the body of Mitchell Martin this morning at the lake. He had been strangled. The sheriff said it looked to be a professional job."
"Yes! Anyway, Rooster called wanting to know if you were back. On the surface, he seemed calm. He told me all about his morning identifying the body and all. Still, at the end of it, his voice did grow weak. He said he needed you. At that point, he sounded desperate. Then, he seemed to recover and added he wanted you to handle the press."
All seemed quiet driving up to Rooster's home. He answered the door and thanked Clyde for bringing me in a way to make it clear his service was completed.
"What a mess," he said. "I know you're not much of a drinker, but join me in one anyway."
From a crystal decanter, he poured the rich brown liquor over the ice cubes. I took a sip; he drank deeply from his glass.
"Who could have done this! The sheriff said it was definitely professional. Someone had paid good money to end his life. Why?"
For the first time, I felt he wanted a reply from me. All I did was shake my head attempting to indicate that I didn't have a clue.
"He's started his training program, but hasn't really been involved with that long enough for anyone to want him dead at this point, would you think?"
"The only criminal element that I know of personally was the Daltons. He did go to a party or two at their house. I have wondered if they connected him, us, with their arrests because of Wanda. But then, they're in the pen."
"Still, the pen is where all the criminal contacts are."
"You know the Daltons."
He fixed his gaze on me.
"Not that well."
"Well, if you hear anything that would help reduce my uncertainty, tell me, okay?"
"But for now, I need you to go down to the office. You can take the company car. Make sure the media coverage stays focused on the positive. See to the obits. Then, until I tell you otherwise, you're my stand-in with the paper chain. It's been running well while you were away - shouldn't be any problems, but if there are, handle them."
"I'm asking you to be an honorary pallbearer. Line up the head coach, the defensive coordinator, etc to also serve. The coach can help you pick the actual bearers."
"Okay, I can handle that."
"I know you can! Really, I can't tell you how good it is that you're here. For the first time since they called me this morning, I feel that I can relax a little. His body was so cold, so lifeless, nothing of the go getter that was my Mitch."
Having Rooster's agenda, I was able to work that night as a professional. I wrote the obit as if I had no inside information about M. M. Martin. Then, I wrote two articles on his life. One of them was primarily for our chain and the other was dispatched for whatever sport pages wished to print it.
Booster was correct, the chain was operating smoothly. I was able to stop at the club late the next afternoon. There was no game, but J. D. and Henry were upstairs.
"Of course, you know it's done."
"Yes, now it's just dealing with the aftermath."
"You've had to deal with the family in your work?"
"Yes, Rooster sent Clyde to get me on our arrival in Atlanta. I had to write the obit and a couple of features on his life and career."
"Did you manage to keep it civil?" asked Henry.
"I managed. How about you?"
"So far, no one's knocked at my door. This time, I have an alibi. I was at the Area Meeting of the Stars in Atlanta. And, you have an alibi. J. D.'s the only one without an alibi."
"But, I don't have a motive. Then, I could get an alibi if I had to."
"That's not the issue. They know it was a professional job. They'll be looking for the people behind it."
"Well, if Rose Ann's murder is any indication, they'll never figure that out."
We all managed the funeral well. As far as I was concerned, we interred M. M. Martin's bad with his bones. All that was left was the memory of his charm and the knowledge that he was gone.
The day after the funeral, Henry Ruth showed me a small lined brown envelope with no return address. Inside was Ruth Ann's locket. "Now, who could have sent this to me?"
"I'm sure I don't know."
"Well, I'll treasure it always." He smiled and said, "You know, now I'm going to have to find a new hobby."
It seemed that without Mitchell's career to promote, the Martins had less interest in owning a chain of newspapers. It soon fell to me to oversee its daily operations. I fulfilled those duties and wrote a daily column until the Martins found a buyer. The new owners valued my services on par with the Martins and asked less from me.
Mary accepted the position in Athens and we established a home there where we lived for two years before I got an offer from a major newspaper. She also advanced her career in the move.
Henry Ruth and I have remained in contact over the years. He continued as club Secretary until Clyde finished his rotation through the Positions, but after that he disassociated himself from the Star and took up fishing. I never told him but he probably knew who sent him the locket.
Wanda Drake moved to Washington with the Attorney General's office during the Carter administration. After that, we lost track of her. At this writing ten years later, she still hasn't managed to become a governor, representative or senator, but she is still young.
Mary has been urging me to write these stories since we left Georgia. When we learned of J. D. Oliver's death, last year, I knew it was time to start. After all, his is perhaps the most important of the stories.
Clyde tells me that conditions at the club remain much the same. As far as I know the good and the bad, the good in the bad and the bad in the good, continue to conflict within the club as it does in all of us.
Mary insisted that I describe our premarital indulgences. I tried to tell her that a gentleman never tells.
"Aw, Russ, everyone knows that it's all pure fiction."