- 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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- A new chapter by a new Topeka author each week at tscpl.org/community-novel.
Downloading SpeakEasy Chapter 5 by Nan Plum
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Read Online: SpeakEasy Chapter 5 by Nan Plum
They entered the coffee shop, and Ronni made a beeline to the back while Charles ordered coffees.
Two steaming mugs in hand, Charles walked toward the table Ronni had chosen. He frowned at Ronni, and she smiled back at him.
“Veronica, you know how I feel about sitting with my back to people.” Charles glanced around and slowly placed the mugs on the table.
She giggled and took a sip of coffee. “You’re so silly. All this comes from a book you read when you were a kid. The one where that gunfighter always sat with his back against the wall so no one could sneak up on him, and then one time, he broke this rule and got shot in the back. That one, right? You’re no Wild Bill Hickok, you know.”
“I know that,” Charles retorted. “It’s the principle of the matter. I like to see everything going on in a room. It allows me to get the lay of the land and the people. That gives me ample opportunity to set the play up the way that will make me the most victorious.”
“You make it sound more like war than dining out, Charles.” She took a sip, frowned, and looked into the mug.
“Life is war,” Charles snapped back. “If anything, that is one truth Law School has taught me. To be successful in war, one must be an avid student of Sun Tzu’s Art of War. Which of course, I happen to be. Now be a good girl and give me my chair.”
Ronni pointed at the mug as she stood, circling around the end of the table without lifting the mug from it. “What’s this? I thought you were getting me coffee.”
“I saw how you were when I got to your apartment,” Charles answered as he slid into the chair that she had vacated. “You don’t need coffee. You need enlightenment. It’s peppermint chai with two sugars, your favorite non-coffee drink. Now drink up.”
She took another sip and nodded. “You’re right, as always. The chai hits the spot. Thanks.”
They sat quietly for a few minutes, sipping. She noticed that each of his sips was almost exactly thirteen seconds after the previous, by the clock on the wall above the bar. He was so meticulous.
“So your car … ”
He took a sip before finishing his statement, and Ronni finished the sentence for him. “… is fine now. It might be the starter and probably should be fixed, but I’ll deal with it later.”
Charles swallowed and raised his eyebrows. “No, Veronica, I was going to say your car was Donna’s lame attempt to hook you up with her brother. And you should make fixing your car a priority before you get stranded. That could happen somewhere worse than at a business during daylight hours.”
“Me and Pete?” she asked, going back to his first comment. “There is no me and Pete. He’s nice, but not my type. Pete was just helping me out of a jam.”
“Which Donna miraculously could not help you with at all. I’m no fool. Donna does not like me. She never did. I’m smarter than she is, and I can see right through her. And it’s ‘Pete and I,’ not ‘Pete and me.’”
“Sometimes you’re too smart for your own good.” Ronni emptied her mug and pushed it to the outside edge of the table. “Trust me. Nothing is going on between Pete and I.”
“I trust you,” Charles said. “I just don’t trust Donna. The total dislike is mutual between us. By the way, ‘me’ would be used as the object of the preposition ‘between’, not ‘I’.”
“Whatever, Charles. Can we please change the subject?”
“I concur completely,” he answered, emphasizing concur. “Do me a favor and stay away from Pete. He’s a loser. He’s never going anywhere with his life, and I don’t want him bringing you down with him.”
“What makes you think he’s a loser?” Ronni tapped a fingernail on the table and frowned at him. “After all, he is Donna’s brother.”
“Because I’m a winner,” Charles replied. “Twenty years from now, you and I will be living in a beautiful home in an upscale suburb of a major city, while Pete will be stuck somewhere in a small, dinky apartment in some nowhere town doing some nothing job. You know me – I can see twenty moves ahead. I am rarely ever wrong. Both of us will soon complete advanced degrees. Guys like him weigh down stars like us.”
He finished his chai and pushed the mug next to the other one at the edge of the table. “Tell me about your interview.”
Ronni recounted the event but skipped the details of the awkward moments with Pete. She did, however, relate her frustration at Pete taking over the interview. “I only got two real good tidbits: Julia confirmed that the news article on her was false, and she remembered the murder of a Bill the Bootlegger.”
Charles laughed. “What kind of idiot calls himself ‘Bill the Bootlegger’? They were already targets at the time, between the cops enforcing the prohibition laws and different mobsters of the era. Something smells fishy about that tale.”
“So what do you think about all of it, Charles?”
He leaned forward. “I can’t say for sure. She is 108. Her memories could be blending together. She could be misremembering. Maybe she has a repressed memory or two. She’s losing her mind. Or she’s leading you on because she’s lonely and needs someone to talk to. Possibly it could be all of the above, each to a greater or lesser degree.”
“You are such a lawyer.” She added an unladylike snort.
“I am at the top of my class right now,” Charles replied with a beam of confidence. “When I graduate, I will be one of the best and then THE best in the business. And I’m going to have you by my side all the way.”
“So what do you suggest I do?”
“If I was in charge, I’d go in with a string of hard-hitting questions and would not relent until I got my answers … but Veronica, you are not me. Not by any stretch. Be you. Talk to her as you would talk to your family. You’ll get what you want.”
“Only one problem. She’s disappeared.”
Charles sat back in his chair, his mouth sagging slightly. “That is not good, but not necessarily bad. Best case scenario: doctors signed her out, and the papers were misfiled.”
“But why would they call me?”
“They are covering their tails in case of a lawsuit,” he said. “They are just checking all their little boxes off to make sure they are safe. Unfortunately, the best is not the most likely or logical. The two of you only met yesterday. No lawyer could win that case.”
“What’s the worse case? No, wait. What’s the second-best case scenario?”
“It’s not likely, either. A family member picked her up. Remember, she is at the manor. From what you said, Julia is self-sufficient. Whoever put her there was trying to get rid of her without suffering any guilt. As long as she’s taken care of, I imagine they could live their life without the burden of guilt.”
Ronni twisted her mouth and shook her head. “Then why not leave her there?”
Charles shrugged. “Senior assisted living gets expensive … or maybe they just took her on an outing and didn’t go through the proper channels. ”
“No,” Ronni sighed. “That can’t be it. Her only relative lives hours away. So … what’s the worse-case scenario?”
“She was kidnapped,” Charles answered.
“That’s not funny.”
“I was not trying to be, Veronica. Again it is not likely because she is of no value, and kidnapping is all about value. Unless she had knowledge of something valuable, I doubt she would be worth anything. In fact, you’re probably the only person in the world who has any interest in this woman. Even then, it’s only because you’re desperate for the grade.”
Ronni bit her lip and stared at him. “So what do we do now?”
“We do nothing,” Charles said. “I have moot court and a study group to make, both of which I will be late getting to because of your drama.” He pulled out his keys and slid them towards her. “Take my car to Topeka and do some digging. When you are done, I would appreciate it if you bring back my car in one piece, no dings or scratches added.”
She sighed, stood, leaned over the table, and kissed his cheek. It was his way of being nice while also pouring on the guilt, and she was used to it. “Thank you. I’ll see you when I get back.”
His phone rang as she left the table, but she managed to hear most of what Charles said.
“It’s taken care of. Good! She’s on her way. Make sure you pick me up in five minutes. I do have a schedule to keep. You better find this jewel or there will be hell to pay.”
As she left the coffee shop she could hear him say, “It’s your move now.” For a brief moment, she wondered what he was talking about but decided to focus on the task at hand – where was Julia? Time to start digging.
Chapter 6 will be published next week at https://tscpl.org/community-novel