- SpeakEasy is the 2013 Community Novel Project of the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library. Read more about the project including the premise, behind the scenes, and the book launch party.
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Downloading SpeakEasy Chapter 12 by Crystal K. Green
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Read Online: SpeakEasy Chapter 12 by Crystal K. Green
Dallas pulled up to Lakeview Manor. Two police cars were parked out front. Pete gently nudged Julia to wake her. “We’re home, Mrs. Stanford.”
Julia stirred. “Oh, really? So soon?” She stretched her arms and looked out the window. “What do you think they’re doing here?” she asked, pointing at the police cars.
Ronni grimaced. She hated to upset Julia and had hoped to avoid any kind of spectacle with the cops, but they couldn’t dodge that now. Still, she chose to minimize the potential seriousness of what they found during their investigation. “Julia, the nurses called the police to document the damage to your things and make sure the Manor is safe from whoever committed the crime. The officers need to ask you a couple questions to complete their report.”
“Are you sure that’s all it is?” asked Julia.
Ronni deflected the question. “Pete, I need to ask my uncle something. Can you help Julia get inside okay?”
“I’ll try,” said Pete in his velvety voice, flashing a dimpled grin.
“Don’t worry,” Julia chuckled. “I’ll take good care of him for you.”
Ronni smiled and waved as the two walked slowly toward the building. A couple of nurses, one pushing a wheelchair, emerged to greet them as they neared the front door.
Ronni patted the coat on the seat next to her, which lay folded, neatly concealing Julia’s jewelry box. “You have to keep that safe, Uncle.”
“Must be a valuable coat,” he replied, winking.
“Yes, it is. Very valuable!”
“You got it. Well, don’t stay a stranger so long this time.”
She pecked him on the cheek and slid out of the car. “I won’t. I’ll call you once things are handled here. Thanks for your help today.”
He gave her a thumbs up as he squealed the tires and pulled away.
Ronni stood at the curb for a few moments. She scanned the area for any vehicles pursuing the Crown Victoria. Seeing none, she jaunted into the Manor and hurried toward Julia’s room. At the nurses desk, a tallish woman in a dark business suit, perhaps in her 50s, intercepted her and blocked her path.
“Ms. Long, I presume?” said the woman authoritatively.
“Uh, yes.” Ronni distractedly peered over the woman’s shoulder. She saw Julia, Pete, and the police gathered just outside Julia’s room. Pete stood next to Julia, who sat in a wheelchair. One of the officers crouched next to her, jotting on a notepad. Pete and Julia both seemed quite relaxed, which was directly opposite what Ronni felt at the moment. Not only was she worried about how Julia would handle whatever the police had to say, but there was something about this woman in front of her she immediately didn’t like. She was pretty sure they’d never met before, but the woman almost seemed familiar.
“Good. I’d like a word with you please. In private,” the woman said.
“Not yet. I need to check on my friend first.”
The woman glanced behind her. “She’s being well taken care of, Ms. Long, as you can see.”
Ronni attempted to brush past, but the woman quickly cut her off.
Frustrated, Ronni glared at her. “Listen, I really need to make sure everything is all right first, and then we can go have a private chat somewhere.”
“No, I’m certain you want to speak with me first, unless you want Mrs. Stanford to spend the night in jail.”
“Jail?” Ronni gulped.
“Yes, jail. Believe me, I’m not afraid to bring her crimes up to the police, no matter how long ago they were committed.”
Ronni opened her mouth to reply but shut it again when she saw the steel cold eyes of the woman, which practically commanded her to be silent and comply with her request.
Something inside her stirred, the same repulsion that arose when she had to comply with Charles’ inane ideas so often as part of her cover. No, thought Ronni, I can’t give in to her that easily. Time for some diversionary tactics. She hoped to sway the woman to back off, at least for a while. “I’m sorry,” said Ronni in her most polite, even-toned voice, “have we met before? I didn’t catch your name.”
“I didn’t give it. You can call me Miss Banning.”
“Ah, thank you Ms. Banning. What’s your association with Lakeview Manor?”
“That’s not important,” she hissed.
“I see. If the answer to my question isn’t important enough for you to divulge that information, then whatever you have to say to me can probably wait a few minutes. In which case, you won’t mind if I check in with Julia briefly before you and I chat. Right?”
The woman scowled at Ronni, but acquiesced and let her pass. Ronni walked confidently toward Julia, Pete and the cops. She didn’t feel confident. Instead, she felt relieved that Ms. Banning backed down. That woman definitely got under her skin!
Pete waved as she approached. The officer who had been crouching and taking notes stood up and shook Julia’s and then Pete’s hands. “Thank you. I think that covers it for now. We’ll be on our way.” He nodded politely at Ronni as he and the others walked by.
“I missed everything? What did they say?”
“Nothing much, really,” replied Pete. “Standard follow-up questions. Who’s that woman?”
Ronni looked behind her. Ms. Banning still hovered near the nurses’ desk. At the moment, she had her cell phone pressed to her ear and a foul look on her face.
“I don’t know exactly,” Ronni said, “Let’s get Julia home. And I want to hear all about what the police told you about the break-in.” They wheeled Julia into her room and helped her settle into her blue chair.
Once nestled comfortably, Julia spoke up. “I’m chilled. Would one of you fetch a blanket from the bedroom for me?”
“I’ll get it,” volunteered Pete.
“Would you like some tea, Julia?” Ronni asked.
“No, thank you.”
Pete came back with the blanket. “I didn’t see much of a mess in there. It won’t take long to tidy up. The cops told us there wasn’t much damage. They were surprised because the nurse who called them sounded hysterical and they were expecting a difficult scene. So what did that woman at the nurses’ station want with you anyway? She was intense!”
Ronni was confused. “Wait. So the police didn’t say anything to you about there being something odd about the vandalism?”
“Huh. Weird.” Had the nurse who called her lied about something bothering the police? Ronni decided to call the officers and find out more. “Did they leave a phone number to contact them?”
“Yes, here.” Pete handed her a business card. “So about that woman …”
“Thanks. As for the woman, she really wanted to speak with me about something, but I don’t know what. I’ll follow up on that tomorrow, too.”
“Who are you two discussing?” asked Julia.
“She said her name is Miss Banning.”
“Bah! That evil witch. Don’t ever tell her anything.”
Ronni raised her eyebrows. “Do you know her? Who is she?”
“She’s in charge of this place. Always digging around in people’s personal affairs and wrecking their lives. I’ve never liked her. She gets under my skin!”
Ronni chuckled. “I know what you mean. I feel the same way. Does she know anything about Billy or the jewelry?”
“I don’t think so. Why?”
“She implied she knew about some crimes you committed long ago.”
“You two are the only people I’ve ever spoken to about Billy. Oh dear. What if she does know something?”
“Don’t worry, Julia. I’ll see what I can discover.”
“You’re not actually going to talk to her, are you?” asked Pete.
“Why not? She invited me to. It’s an opportunity to find out what she knows, especially if I make her think she’s got the upper hand in the conversation.”
“How are you going to manage that?” he asked.
“I’m not sure yet, but I’ll figure something out.”
“Please be careful,” said Julia, wringing her hands. Her eyes brimmed with tears.
“What’s the matter, Julia?”
“I was so relieved to finally share my secret with someone. You two have been so kind. But now things are a disaster. I don’t want any more trouble for anybody.”
Ronni gently grasped the older woman’s hands to reassure her. “I’ll be fine, Julia. I promise. We’ll all be fine.”
“We should probably go and let you get some rest,” added Pete. “We’ll call you tomorrow, okay?”
“That sounds wonderful. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, Julia. See you soon.”
Nobody even glanced at them as they exited. The foul woman was nowhere to be seen. Ronni and Pete said goodbye to each other at the front door after agreeing to touch base via phone that evening.
As she entered the turnpike, something still bothered Ronni. Something about Miss Banning. She hadn’t pinpointed what, but things had a way of sorting themselves out in her brain when she drove. She hoped the trip back to Lawrence was long enough for that. She looked forward to sharing whatever it was with Pete because he was such a contrast to that nasty Charles. Something else she looked forward to — the end of her undercover assignment and thus the need to pretend she was head over heels with Charles. She didn’t even want to think about him. Charles and his study group. Charles and his “twenty moves ahead” nonsense. Charles and his mysterious phone calls. Charles and his mother.
Ronni slapped the wheel. “His mother! That’s it.”
She immediately dialed Pete.
“Hello, Lovely. I thought we were supposed to touch base later.”
“Yes, we were, but …”
“Are you home already?”
“No. But it just now hit me. Miss Banning is Charles’ mother.”
“I said Miss Banning is Charles’ mother. My boyfriend.”
“Yes, I heard you, and I know who your boyfriend is. I thought you already knew his family or at least their names. Charlie Banning, huh.”
“Actually, I don’t. Wait. What?”
“What did you call him?”
“That name sounds familiar.”
“Yes, I know. That’s your boyfriend’s name, right? It’d better sound familiar.”
“No, I mean from somewhere else. And no, it isn’t. Oh, what is it?”
Pete laughed. “Okay, I’m Super Librarian, but I’m not that good. You lost me there, Ronni. I truly have no idea what you’re talking about. What’s your boyfriend’s name?”
“Do we have a bad connection?” Pete asked.
“No. I was distracted by trying to remember where I’ve heard that name before. What did you say?”
“What’s your boyfriend’s name?”
“I mean his last name. Why didn’t you know that Miss Banning was Charles’ mother right away? Don’t he and his parents share the same surname?”
“I don’t know.”
“Seriously?” He sounded annoyed. “Well, how long have you been dating this dud-muffin? You’re not honestly telling me you don’t even know his last name or anything about his family. That’s ridiculous. He’s not really much of a boyfriend, is he?”
Ronni bit her lip. She wanted to blurt out her entire story to him right this second. “Not now, Pete. This is important.”
“I agree. This is important. You don’t know his last name. You …”
“That’s not true,” she interrupted. “His last name is Christopher. He said he legally changed his name a few years ago. Something to do with his family’s history. But I don’t know what surname his parents go by because I never asked. ”
“That proves my point.”
“You don’t seem to really care about him or his family. I’d think you’d want to know his parents’ names. And you’ve apparently never met either of them before today. You and he don’t click. You’re not compatible. Plus, he treats you like crap! What do you see in this guy anyway? Why are you with him? It’s certainly not that you adore his mother.”
“Well, you’re right about that. She was horrible and … Oh, yuck!”
“Oh yuck, what?”
“I just remembered. He mentioned we were having lunch with his mother this Sunday.”
“Well, won’t that be special?”
“Pete, stop it. Why are you so weird suddenly? This is hard enough. I don’t need you being weird.”
“Me? Why are you so weird? You seem like such a common-sense gal, Ronni. But you keep hanging around with that loser. So either you’re actually crazy or there’s a darn good reason for it.”
Ronni didn’t answer him.
“Are you there? Ronni?”
“Yes, Pete. I’m still here.”
“So are you going to tell me what’s really going on or not?”
“I can’t … I can’t give you any satisfactory answers, Pete. Things are as they are right now, okay?”
She heard Pete sigh. He mumbled, “I’d better hang up. Traffic’s getting heavy.”
She hung up. At least she was almost home. When she pulled up to her apartment and parked, the tears flowed. She couldn’t help it. She liked Pete but couldn’t date him, and loathed Charles but had to date him. Both of them were pressuring her to give them things she couldn’t give. She didn’t wish to hurt Pete, but she couldn’t simply walk away from Charles. It was her job to be with Charles. What a complicated mess!
Once inside, Ronni made a beeline for her bed. She decided a call to Uncle Dallas and everything else she was supposed to pursue could wait until tomorrow. A good night’s sleep might help un-complicate matters.
Knock, knock, knock, knock.
Ronni rolled over and stared at the door. The sun streamed through her window.
“Who is it?”
“Your gorgeous roommate Donna,” came the singsongy reply.
“Unh. Come in.”
“Hey,” Donna said.
“Hi, Donna. What’s up?”
“Nothing. I haven’t seen you the last couple days. I’m about to head out for class again so thought I’d at least say hello before I left. Anything interesting going on?”
“Mmmm. Yeah, but if I told you, I’d have to kill you.”
“You’re funny when you’re half awake, Ronni. Did you know that?”
“Mmmm. Yeah, I guess.”
“By the way, this came for you yesterday afternoon. It looks important.” Donna handed her an envelope.
Ronni tore open the envelope and pulled out the contents. Then the room began to spin and fade. She blacked out.
Chapter 13 will be published next week at https://tscpl.org/community-novel
About Author Crystal K. Green
Crystal K. Green enjoyed co-authoring Capital City Capers (the 2012 Community Novel) so much she volunteered to help create another unique local adventure in 2013. She loves to capture inspirational stories and reveal them through words and photos. Her life-long passion for writing takes her on many fictional journeys. Her appreciation of culture and languages motivates her to study German, Spanish, and Russian (so far); host international students; and travel the world. She began actively participating in NaNoWriMo events in 2006, which has resulted in 9 novels and 3 scripts. She can be reached at email@example.com.