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Aletha's Will

Aletha's Will

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Aletha's Will

Länge:
305 Seiten
4 Stunden
Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Jun 18, 2007
ISBN:
9780595891986
Format:
Buch

Beschreibung

Camille Howland Mariani, retired college public relations director, journalist, and newspaper editor, is the author of several magazine articles, as well as the SUNY Canton College history, Seventy Years of Change. Having turned to writing fiction, she previously published Lucille's Lie. The Maine native resides with her husband, Albert J. Mariani, in Sun City Center, Florida.

On returning to her home city of Twin Ports, Maine, Dee Major learns that her mother, Aletha, is dead. Officials call the hanging a suicide. But Dee has good reason to believe it is murder as well as a far-reaching conspiracy. To learn the truth, Dee must find Aletha's will. Just when it appears that she has the evidence to prove her theory, her own courage and will to live are put to the test by the egocentric murderer.

Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Jun 18, 2007
ISBN:
9780595891986
Format:
Buch

Über den Autor

Camille Mariani is a lifelong writer, former newspaper editor, and college public relations director in Canton, New York. A Maine native, she is the author of five murder/suspense/romance novels. She and her husband, Albert J. Mariani, reside in Sun City Center, Florida, where they share a love of old movies, books, and music.


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Buchvorschau

Aletha's Will - Camille Mariani

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CHAPTER 1  

She heard his car stop, the door slam, her own key unlock the back door, his footsteps coming to the kitchen. Until two weeks ago, Aletha anticipated these familiar sounds. Now they provoked anguish so strong she trembled. People don’t change. He’s no good. He never was any good. That painful revelation had shocked and sickened her.

She stood up, pushed the chair aside, and squared her shoulders as he entered. Without a word, he dropped his briefcase on the table, glanced at her, walked to the liquor cabinet, and mixed himself a martini. His visits and drinks were usually in the evening, not at seven in the morning. He turned and eyed her over the glass.

Arrogance, is it? I can do arrogance, too, she thought, fighting the pain in her head. Why did she bother to take medications when they did no good?

You don’t look happy to see me, Aletha. Only a couple of weeks ago we couldn’t get to the bed fast enough. You must be over your snit by now. You understand what happened, don’t you sweetheart? I left you alone so you could reconsider. Two weeks. Didn’t you miss me? Come now. Be honest. Join me. I never lied to you. I said we’d marry, and I intend …

Snit you call it? Love? You mercenary low-life.

His mouth tightened. But his hot temper wouldn’t keep her from saying her piece. She was angry, not afraid.

Two weeks ago I found out what you are and what you love. She was determined to maintain self-control despite the pain. This was all about money, not love. Your touching confession sounded like an ultimatum to me. She grimaced when pain sliced through her head. Don’t dare think I’ll ever give up my property.

You don’t understand. Believe me, this isn’t a deal just for me. He flattened his hand over his chest. "It’s for the two of us. You and me, dearest. I will get a divorce and we can marry very soon."

You murderer! You call me dearest and sweetheart after you killed my family? I never knew anyone without conscience before. You kill and feel justified? You think it’s okay and I shouldn’t mind hearing about it? That I should be forgiving and marry you? You’re a sick man.

She stepped back and took a deep breath. You’re the first person I ever truly loathed from the depths of my being. You had the sheer gall to tell me, of all people, the one you’ve hurt the most. You shattered my life. And then you speak of love to me as if it just shouldn’t matter at all. I’m supposed to embrace you as if you were my savior because of some land deal you’ve made.

Her eyes felt like they would cross from the pain. She clenched the edge of the table for support and told herself not to fold.

How could you confess killing my parents? And then my husband. Poor Mike. To think you’d shoot him and leave the gun next to him. I always said he was innocent. I knew it was a set-up. I just couldn’t prove it. But, of course, you can bribe your way out of anything. You’re disgusting. Worse than an animal. I only regret that Maine abolished capital punishment. But you will pay. I promise you that. One way or another, you will pay.

He stepped toward her, his eyes expressionless. Aletha knew this was his last-ditch stand. He’d spoken of the deadline. Time was running out for the multi-million-dollar land deal he desperately needed to conclude. And she knew time could well be running out for her life, too, if he didn’t get cooperation.

Her one worry was what he might do then. Would he kill her one remaining loved one, her beautiful, independent daughter? Aletha hoped Dee Ann would find the truth before it was too late for her, too.

You see, I wouldn’t have told you. But you talked about what you planned to do with the property and wouldn’t listen to me. I tried to tell you that I’ve already … He stopped mid-sentence, poured more gin and drank before continuing.

I lost my head. Anyway, he shrugged, assuming that nonchalant air he did so well, I didn’t think you’d take it like this. I thought you’d understand. You weren’t on great terms with your parents. Your husband was an alcoholic, for God’s sake. No great loss to anyone. Like I told you, it was an accident when it all started. Your father was a stubborn old fool. They would all be alive today if he’d had some sense and sold me the land. I offered far more than he could expect to get from anyone else. I wasn’t trying to steal it from him and I don’t want to steal it from you.

Rubbish! Tell me, what makes you think you have the right to play God with the lives of others?

He took one step toward her. In the time it would take to snap her fingers, Aletha saw his savage nature burst through all attempts at constraint.

Don’t you pass judgment on me, Aletha. You’re not God either. And how do you think you could prove this allegation of murder? I know you haven’t yet told anyone about it since there’s no way in hell you can prove I killed them. It would be your word against mine. And I’m not without influence.

Yes, she knew. What he said was true. How could she prove any of it? He obviously had more than just influence. He had bought protection on all sides.

Look at it this way. You and I can be the richest couple in the state, he said in a calmer voice. A signed bill of sale for the vast woodland around Shine Lake was all she needed to give him. His offer of marriage would clinch the deal. Or so he thought. And that was his mistake.

When we get married, we’ll be rich and influential, Aletha. Think of it. With the money from the sale, and combining our resources, we can do anything. Think of the power we’ll have.

I’m already wealthy and influential. And so are you. You don’t need more. My father wouldn’t sell out to you and I won’t either. Neither my property nor myself. You can’t buy me and you won’t own me. Get the hell out of here and take your proposition with you. I have influence, too, don’t forget. Mine reaches to the governor’s office. And beyond.

He downed the last of his drink, studied the glass. She thought he meant to throw it. Instead, he went to the dishwasher and set it inside. He crossed his arms and leaned back against the washer. It clicked shut. His eyes slowly studied her from head to foot and back. In pink satin nightgown and robe, she felt naked under his deliberate calculation. It was a bad choice of apparel for this meeting, she realized. She should have dressed.

But this will bring business to the area, Aletha, a lot of it. It will generate jobs. You’ll help the poor in a big way.

His tone turned condescending. That should appeal to your generous soul. Huh? Can’t you see? Don’t you understand?

She had heard of his treacherous reputation before she became well acquainted with him. Odd that she gradually overlooked that, as well as other loathsome traits. Until now.

He came toward her and reached for her arm. She jerked it away, aware that his next move would be to pull her in and kiss her. Not this time. Not ever again.

You know I love you, Aletha. I’d do anything for you. I mean that. This is for you as much as for me.

Damn you. I wonder why I ever believed you. I was crazy to think I loved you. I was crazier to think you loved me.

The self-confident expression she once admired turned menacing. She could see hatred … or was it panic? … ready to explode.

Don’t make me hurt you, Aletha. Sign it.

His heavy breathing told the story. She knew this was the end since she’d never sign over any part of the property to him. Strange she hadn’t recognized the demonic side of this man before. How had he wormed his way into her life so easily? Why had she suddenly turned weak after Mike’s death? Why did she think she needed a man’s love?

She was no match for him physically. But she would fight now even though there was no doubt that he could kill again in a rage if he didn’t get what he wanted. Since possible consequences of his actions obviously would not curb his temper or his greed, Aletha had no doubt that her negative response to his offer would trigger a violent reaction. He had his mind set on only one thing, getting title to that property. His god was gold.

Aletha never feared death. She believed in a life beyond this vale of tears, as the church faithful called it. And, considering her condition, why should she fear death any more now than later? He would simply hasten the inevitable. She had some satisfaction in knowing that he was unaware of her terminal cancer.

He reached into his jacket pocket.

A gun! At least it will be quicker this way, she thought. If only she had time to explain it all to Dee Ann as she had planned to do. It was her one last regret.

CHAPTER 2  

Coffee. That’s what Dee needed instead of fighting sleep to drive on. A half hour or so later in arrival time wouldn’t make any difference. Twin Ports would still be there. Aletha would be waiting. This feeling of urgency was all in her head.

I won’t believe something has happened to Aletha. It’s just my imagination.

ESP existed only in the imagination, nothing more, she had often said. She refused to believe in communication beyond perfectly normal avenues. Those who hoped to demystify life’s pains and disappointments came up with all kinds of weird beliefs. They needed a reality check. Dee wouldn’t live in that world of escapism any more than she would believe in witches riding broomsticks.

Stay with what you know. She thought the command just as the Olds took its own course, sliding off the road onto a soft shoulder. Dee yanked the steering wheel left and the car swerved in a bumpy course from unstable dirt to macadam.

Dammit Dee, watch the road. She flung the words at her reflection in the rear view mirror. Drained by fatigue, her face looked white as a mime’s, her eyelids droopy. She had left Westburgh, New York early for the ten-hour drive to Maine, but the late night at Sheldon’s wedding party, followed by a restless three hours of sleep, left her stupefied.

She couldn’t come up with a good explanation, but she had to admit that an unfamiliar sense of dread lingered since her mother’s telephone call two weeks ago. Now that foreboding deepened with each mile.

Stop imagining things. Aletha couldn’t be in serious trouble. She’d hardly call on for help with a big problem, especially not from her daughter.

Yet, she did call, and she did ask Dee to return to Twin Ports as soon as possible.

Doubts and questions intensified all during the reception. Under the surface was the nagging question, What’s wrong? Characteristically, Aletha’s imperial manner, her self-control didn’t weaken under any circumstance.

Strange, Dee thought, how much she resembled her mother that way, and though she’d like to deny that she had inherited Aletha’s genes, her temperament testified to that fact. Why else would this journey be so difficult if not for her own impulsive move a year ago? She asked herself just how sensible she’d been to leave a good position at the Twin Ports Courier … associate editor for godsake … and to strike out without a clue where she was going or when she might find a new job. Not that she really needed to work for income. Her grandparents had provided a trust fund for her welfare. But she needed to work for her own self-esteem. Independence. She didn’t need anyone to take care of her. And it didn’t matter to her how long or how far she had to go to find a respectable job. She just kept driving, across four states until she found work. It lacked the title she held in Twin Ports, but it was a good, clean reporting job at the Westburgh Press.

She didn’t regret her action, though. She landed on her feet. Until now, she had no misgivings.

I need you. The telephone call was unsettling. Curiosity aroused, and feeling a spark of guilt for having left in the first place, Dee agreed to return home.

Now as she approached her destination, she read the faded sign, Welcome To Twin Ports, and remembered her vow never to return.

Never say never. Lesson learned.

To be honest with herself, she must admit that she had missed the briny potpourri of Maine coast air that now drifted through her open window. The September breeze revived her spirit. After ten hours on the road, she needed that stimulus, anything to buoy her stamina for the meeting with her mother. Yet this time it was different. Something felt wrong.

Her mother’s confession of need continued to haunt Dee. It sounded too much like serious illness. But Aletha wouldn’t tell her the problem over the phone. So stick with what you know.

Driving into Twin Ports on the Stage Road, she crested Longview Hill and slowed the car, her heart revving as if meeting a lover. The hill’s vantage point provided a spectacular seascape of Bay of Isles with its island blobs like giant stepping stones to the open sea beyond.

The micro city of some eight thousand residents claimed two hillsides, east and west on each side of a high bridge spanning the head-tide inlet. She could see white lobster boats dancing clumsy waltzes around and around their anchors.

The late afternoon light played on a red tugboat inching toward its home berth at the Twin Ports wharf. Across the bay, new homes cluttered the eastern embankments, where artists and nouveau riche had bought coastal property before market values soared even more dramatically than they had in the past five years.

Dee focused briefly on the view, unable to keep from thinking the worst. Not only had Aletha called but she had written, too, another surprise. The words made little sense, something about a song they used to sing. It sounded like Aletha had become nostalgic all of a sudden. Unusual for her mother’s mind to wander to trivia. In the whirl of activity on Tuesday, Dee forgot about the note, which she had stuffed into her purse.

But the telephone call … I need you.

She must not dwell on the gnawing fear that her mother might be ill. Instead, she forced herself to think about changes in her home town. It wasn’t the same place that she knew as a child. She hated to see the coast changing.

Her own ancestors could be counted among the aristocrats who judged fishermen and their families as poor and unschooled. For the most part then, that judgment had merit. Ironically, now many of the dinosaur homes built for sea captains and wealthy traders attracted few buyers except reckless adventurers contemplating a simple lifestyle in the bed and breakfast industry. However, B&B signs had become widely synonymous with for-sale signs.

Class distinction, the great American denial, had always flourished in Twin Ports from waterfront shacks, to the city’s middle-class white houses with porches, to the stately mansions on the hill. With the influx of artists and writers, the city experienced status reversal, and the waterfront promised to become the destination of the wealthy.

Dee seldom stayed in the upper reaches of town, her wealthy heritage. Growing up, her passion had been the waterfront, with its fascinating activities and carefree kids. As she matured, Dee still crossed the social barriers and her choice of friends became the impetus for many arguments with her mother, as did her professional preference, journalism. She could never take the family’s status seriously, unlike her mother who enjoyed the power that money provided, much like a despotic queen.

With a sigh, she reminded herself that she had to come back. Aletha had been willing to take the first step toward reconciliation. I have a problem and need your help, she said in that phone conversation two weeks ago. And then she added, Please.

Dee knew it was serious.

At first Dee promised to be here in one week, but because her friend Sheldon wanted Dee to serve as bridesmaid in her hastily planned wedding with George Durant, this homecoming was a week late. Even though she called Aletha concerning her change of plans, she now hoped she did the right thing.

Aletha had further surprised Dee by saying she was sorry for her outburst in their last heated dispute. What was it about? Dee couldn’t even remember, but she left Twin Ports then, as unrelenting as her mother.

Now it was Dee’s turn to put aside bitterness over their final argument last year. Their relationship seemed like one long battle ever since Dee could remember. She grew more and more rebellious. At 13, she refused to attend church any more, widening the rift more. Her four years at Havenwood College had not healed the wounded pride each felt. If it hadn’t been for the assistant editorship she was offered at the Twin Ports Courier when she was graduated, she would never have returned to her mother’s house to live. It was some time later before Dee learned that Aletha had arranged for the job with the publisher, Christopher Wade. But jobs were scarce then and she was glad to get it. The worst of it all came because Aletha insisted that Dee move back to live with her.

Big mistake. Dee knew from that two-year experience that she couldn’t live with her mother again, not even with this truce they were calling. If she did move in with Aletha, the war of wills would begin all over again. That mustn’t happen.

Approaching Azalea Place, disparagingly referred to by many as Snob Hill where the old wealth of the city remained, Dee turned right and observed that nothing had changed in the year she was gone. Marguerite Dahl still grew her giant geraniums in the circular flower bed with its central cherubic statue spewing water into the bird bath, too arty according to some of the neighbors who said it was obscene to have water coming from there. Ernest and Marie Grove still maintained their dark gray Italianate mansion, so drab that it looked like a prison, a sharp contrast to the Harrisons’ sunshine yellow buildings next door. At last she was at her own home, palatial as all of them, white with four columns that rose the full two stories, defining a second-story balcony with lacy black iron rail. The house was capped by a widow’s walk.

But something was different. Grass and hedges were overgrown, weed-infested flower beds were mostly dead, blinds were drawn inside the first-floor windows . It looked deserted.

What the …? Dee drove into the driveway to the back door. It wasn’t that she expected her mother to come out and greet her with open arms. After all, Aletha was not likely to be overly exuberant, even though she had requested this reunion. No, what bothered Dee was the obvious neglect. For a long while she sat and stared at the shambles, stunned. Appearance meant everything to Aletha. She’d no more let her home look run-down than she would go to a bank board meeting less than fully groomed from makeup to high heels.

As she opened the car door and stepped out, she heard her name being called.

Dee. Hey Dee! Hi. Welcome home.

Jenny Johnson waved her arms as she ran along the familiar pathway across the rock garden boundary line. In jeans, blue shirt, and white tennis shoes, she looked like a teenager, lithe and bubbly.

A tugboat blast pierced the stilling late afternoon air. Male voices carried across the street from a back porch. A power mower started up several houses away, exciting a dog to bark defensively. All were sounds of hometown peace, welcome sounds for Dee, though not as thrilling as they might have been under different circumstances.

Jenny, Dee said, returning the big hug. Oh, it’s good to see you. You look terrific.

Her lifelong friend Jenny Johnson, at five-seven, stood a full five inches taller than Dee and was a rare beauty, her blond hair framing classic facial features. Her blue eyes flashed like diamonds when she smiled.

Oh, I should have changed my clothes at least. I get so wrapped up in my work that I forget everything else. I’m just so glad you’re home.

They hugged again.

It’s good to be back. Dee felt a tug of remorse that she had left Twin Ports in the first place, but at the same time, she didn’t regret her year at the Westburgh Press. Not only did she learn a good deal more working on a daily, but she had made friends there, too. She would miss them, just as she had missed Jenny.

How’s your business going, Jen?

Pretty well right now. I’m illustrating a textbook for children. I’ll show you later. It’s a very good contract with Optimum Publications.

How exciting for you. You think this will lead to more contracts?

Pretty certain of it. We’re already talking about a music book.

Oh, I hope so. You deserve it.

Dee closed her eyes and took a deep breath. It was good to be home.

It looks like you brought back a lot more than you left with, Jenny said, nodding toward the back seat full of boxes. Dee recalled her departure a year ago, when all she took were two suitcases and her favorite chess set. She had been so angry with her mother, and now she couldn’t recall why.

Mostly books. You know me … never can pass up a yard sale or an auction, just like Grampa. My apartment was overflowing with books. These are just the ones I couldn’t bear to leave behind.

I keep promising myself I’ll read more, but I never seem to find the time.

You’re just too busy being creative. Dee turned toward her home again and scowled. What’s happened here, Jen? Isn’t Aletha home?

She hasn’t spent much time here this summer. She was here a short while in June, and then I think she went to The Lodge, but I haven’t even had a chance to talk with her, so I really don’t know for sure.

The Lodge, built by Dee’s grandparents, overlooked Shine Lake, nine miles out of town, where Dee spent more time in her teen years than in town with her mother. Her versatile grandmother taught Dee to concentrate on whatever project she undertook. Her grandfather, an auctioneer, let her help him at auction sales, taught her about antiques. They both instilled in her a love of nature.

The Lodge. That’s odd. She always said it was too quiet out there for her. Even so, I wonder why the gardener hasn’t been doing his job here.

She fired the gardener, you know.

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