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Authors: Gayle Roper

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BOOK: Caught in the Middle
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Aside from the attempts on my life, the only thing different about the past three days was that I had met Curt.

It always came back to Curt. Which meant it always came back to Joan.

Don collapsed angrily into his chair, his face stormy and tight. I wondered whether his little temper tantrum had given me a small glimpse of what Joan had come to see. Did she frequently wonder, like me, what she had done to provoke him?

I got up, collected my purse and gloves, and slipped on my coat.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. You deserve each other.

It would take more than my coat to ease the chill of Don’s words.

When I stepped outside, it was into a world made mysterious by fog so thick that I wondered how there was enough breathable oxygen in the atmosphere to sustain human life. I stared through the gray curtain, listening to my spiky hair droop. Wednesday night sleet. Friday snow. Saturday warmer temperatures and fog rising from the melting snow.

Hooray for Pennsylvania winters.

I climbed into my rental car and drove across the street to the parking area behind City Hall. After all Curt had done for me, I felt I had to tell him that I had an appointment. I didn’t want him to worry needlessly.

I also didn’t want him to tell me I shouldn’t meet Andy—which I had no doubt he’d do. I wasn’t going to let him get in the way of this story any more than I had let Don. I was going to meet Andy regardless of what anyone thought or said. I was a reporter, and this was my story!

But what was I going to say that would keep Curt from having a fit?

As it turned out, it was a nonproblem. I found the Brennan Room almost empty, though the pictures looked as good today as they had last night. Curt was across the room with his back to me, talking with a man in a pair of jeans and a plaid flannel shirt. I walked toward them. They were standing in front of a huge painting, easily five feet by six. The placard with its $6000 price tag was one of the few without a red dot on it.

As I got near the men, it became obvious that they were dickering about the price of the picture.

“Six thousand is a bit steep,” the man in the jeans said. He looked like six bucks would be a bit steep.

“Well, Mr. Harrison, four thousand dollars is a bit low for the time and planning that went into this painting,” Curt answered.

Mr. Harrison as in Mr. Harrison, the president of the Amhearst Central Bank, one of the few independent, community banks remaining in our area? Mr. Harrison was facing me and I looked at him more closely. The jeans might be well-worn and the plaid shirt frayed, but the eyes were alert and eager in the business of buying and selling.

I certainly wasn’t going to interrupt what might turn out to be one of Curt’s more important sales. I made like I had come over to study the painting itself.

A Chester County fieldstone house sat beside a pond rimmed with cattails and evergreens. A springhouse sat at the edge of the pond, where a stream lined with tall grasses flowed frothing over some rocks. The evening sky was streaked with the peaches and golds of a shimmering sunset, and a flock of Canada geese were descending to the waiting pond.

“What do you want to do with this painting?” I heard Curt ask.

“Hang it in the bank. Think I’ve got a house big enough to handle something that size? Evil rumors, Curt. Just because I built with a view doesn’t mean I built big. How about forty-five hundred?”

I turned away as Curt said, “How about six thousand?”

Mr. Harrison laughed, obviously having a wonderful time.

I looked around for someone I could leave my message with. There was no one else in the Brennan Room but the three of us. I wandered down a hallway past closed and locked doors, looking for a caretaker or something. A weekend silence gripped the place.

I gave up and decided I’d have to leave a note. I pulled my small notebook from my purse and wrote:

Curt, I have a business meeting at 5:45. I’ll be back by 7:00. Don’t worry. I’ll be fine. Merry

I looked around the Brennan Room. Where could I put this paper so that Curt would find it? If I laid it on the table that had held food last night and held nothing today, it’d be too easy to miss. I certainly couldn’t attach it to a painting.

The front door. I should tape it to the front door. He’d see it there. The only trouble was that I had no tape.

I looked around and spotted some name tags on the edge of the table. I grabbed a name tag, tore off one end and used it to stick the note to the front glass.

Feeling virtuous and altogether a most considerate person, I drove home to change my clothes.

I hung my mist-dampened black gabardine pantsuit on the closet door to dry, folded the black, gray and rose scarf and tossed the white silk turtleneck in the hamper. I pulled on black jeans and a red turtleneck. Then I dug out my favorite red-and-black checkerboard sweater. I always felt chipper when I wore it, and I needed to feel fine and feisty this evening, because my stomach was feeling queasy again.

I looked at Whiskers, who sat on the bed and watched me through sleepy eyes.

“I wonder,” I asked him as I brushed my sticky, sagging hair, “how many newspaper people get ulcers.”

He shook his head and reached a back paw up to scratch lazily at his ear. He made a satisfied groaning noise deep in his throat.

I grabbed him and gave him a hug. “You’ll never suffer from ulcers, bub. Can someone die of lethargy? If so, watch out. You’ve been lethally stricken.”

I put him down on the bed, and he immediately closed his eyes. I patted his head and decided he was a pretty good family substitute, especially considering the problems in the families I had dealt with recently.

There were the Martens with their love and loss and faith, the McGilpins with their lives ripped apart and the Carlyles, all gone but Curt.

For the first time I was struck by the idea of the Gershowitz family. They were also being ripped apart, just like the others.

Who were the Gershowitzes? What were the parents like? Were there brothers and sisters? How did this week’s events affect them all? Were they worried about Andy? Ashamed of him?

Did they feel guilty like Hannah?

I had seen a photo of Lucinda Gershowitz, Andy’s mom, taken at the Fall Fete to benefit Amhearst Community Hospital, and knew she served with Don on the hospital’s Board of Directors. In the news photo she looked sleek and soigné in her formal gown. I tried to recall Mr. Gershowitz, assuming he’d been pictured with her, but all I conjured up was fuzz.

I sat slowly on the edge of the bed and wondered what it was like to have a son who had killed someone and attempted to kill someone else.

My parents were so proud of Sam. What if he weren’t such a great guy? What if he were actually a nasty guy? What if he killed someone? I shook my head. I couldn’t begin to imagine what it must be like.

I went to the kitchen and rooted in the drawer for the phone book. Looking under Gershowitz, I found three listed, but only one had an Amhearst exchange. I punched in the number. While I waited for an answer, I glanced at the clock. Five-fifteen. Plenty of time.

The phone was answered on the first ring.

“Hello?” a woman’s breathless voice said.

“Mrs. Gershowitz?”

“Yes?” she said, at once hesitant and disappointed. Not only was she uncertain about who I was; she was disappointed I wasn’t someone else.

“My name’s Merrileigh Kramer, from
The News.”

A hissing noise came down the line. “What do
you
want? Haven’t you done enough, writing about my Andy like that?”

“Mrs. Gershowitz, I haven’t ever written about Andy. Other reporters have been handling the information that the police provide. I’ve written about Patrick Marten and about the attempts on my life.”

“And you think it was Andy. I know it! And it wasn’t! He’s a good boy, my Andy is.”

I was struck by the raw desperation in her voice. This wasn’t the sophisticated woman in the ball gown. This was a hurting mother trying to protect her cub.

“I’m certain all this has been very hard on you,” I said for want of anything better. I wasn’t going to debate Andy’s guilt or innocence with her, the one person who had the most to lose in the whole issue—except for Andy, of course.

“Hard on me?” Her answer was a sob.

I told myself I couldn’t feel sorry for her and asked, “Have you had any contact with Andy since Wednesday?”

“Of course not,” she said, and the lie traveled as smoothly through the air as the truth would have.

“Were you expecting to hear from him when you answered the phone just now?”

“Of course not.” Another lie.

“Where do you think he is?”

“How would I know?”

But she does know,
I thought.
The woman is not good at dissembling. I hope Andy’s not depending on her to help him get away. She’ll give whatever plans they have away whether she means to or not. She’s too desperate on his behalf.

“If you could talk to him,” I asked, “what would you say?”

“I’d tell him I loved him.”

I waited, but that was all she said. “You wouldn’t tell him to turn himself in?”

“And go to jail?” Her voice went up at the end at the horror of the thought. And it was horrible. “Never!”

I was surprised. “Don’t you think it’s dangerous for him to be hiding from the police? What if they find him and he gets shot or something?”

“They won’t find him.”

Was that wishful thinking or the words of a rich woman used to getting her own way? “Why do you say that?”

She’d obviously decided she’d said too much. “It’s harassment is what it is. Harassment pure and simple.” Some of the imperiousness that I could picture going with the ball gown edged her voice. “They just decided to pick on Andy. That’s what it is. He’s a good boy, but do they believe me when I say that? Oh, no, not them.” Steel and spite filled the words. “It’s a vendetta against my son!”

“But, Mrs. Gershowitz, what about his fingerprints on the murder weapon?”

Such evidence was not a problem to Andy’s mother. “He was set up. He was!”

“Someone told me that Andy had a pretty bad temper,” I said.

“Lies,” said his mother. “He—”

Through the phone, I heard someone shout, “Lucinda! Who are you taking to?”

Lucinda Gershowitz’s hand clamped imperfectly over the mouthpiece. “It’s a private conversation, Harold.”

A man’s gruff voice repeated, “Who are you talking to?”

I could picture the two of them staring at each other. Would she tell him who she was talking to? Whose will was the stronger, hers or his?

She capitulated. “It’s that Merrileigh Kramer of
The News.

There was a moment of silence while I waited to see what would happen. I heard fumbling noises, and Mr. Gershowitz suddenly spit at me, “You write a message in your paper to that kid who
used
to be mine, lady.”

“Harold!” The pain in his wife’s voice was terrible to hear.

“Tell him,” Harold Gershowitz continued, “he’ll get no help from me. No sympathy. No money. Definitely no money. And he’d better not look for anything from his mother, either, because I won’t let her get involved. And that’s final!”

I heard Mrs. Gershowitz shout, “You can’t stop me! It’s my money! And don’t you raise your hand to me, Harold Gershowitz. You think I won’t tell the police? They’re here all the time, anyway, looking for our boy.
Our
boy!” she repeated and began to sob. Her wailing grew louder, closer to the phone. I could picture Mr. Gershowitz relenting, reaching out and pulling his wife to him, the forgotten telephone probably now held behind her back.

“Our boy.” He repeated his wife’s words but without the heat of his previous comments. There was a moment’s silence. “No,” he finally said slowly and softly. “He’s your boy now, Lucy. Not mine.” I heard his pain and hurt along with his unyielding repudiation. “He’s shamed me through and through. How can I ever hold my head up again in this town? How can I ever make a living again? How can I ever expect to have a decent life? No matter where I go, no matter what I do, someone will always know. ‘Oh, yeah, there goes the murderer’s father.”’

He sobbed a little himself, then cleared his throat. His voice became hard again. “How could he have done this?”

And he hung up.

SEVENTEEN

I
pulled into the parking lot at 5:47 p.m. according to the clock on the dash. My headlights bounced back at me in the fog, and I turned them off. I climbed out and stood leaning against the car. It took my eyes a couple of minutes to adjust to the different shades of gray swirling in the weak light of a streetlamp.

I wasn’t certain my heart and nerves would ever return to normal.

Not that I was exactly afraid. For some reason Andy didn’t frighten me—which might say more about my mental prowess than anything. But I was edgy and uncertain. If I knew anything about Andy, it was that he was volatile.

I reached into the pocket of my red barn coat and felt the little voice-activated tape recorder I had shoved there. I pressed the On button and softly stated the time and place. There’d be no misquotes from me tonight.

A large gray building reared out of the fog in front of me, stretching into the mists and disappearing. A pair of signs at the edge of the parking area provided the only splashes of color, one sign black and reading Brandywine Steel in white letters edged with crimson. A smaller white sign announced in similar letters that visitors were to follow the arrow west.

I began walking toward the east side of the building, just as Andy had told me.

My shoulder blades twitched, and I looked quickly behind me, not really expecting anyone to be there but incapable of resisting the compulsion. All I saw was the gray and misty ocean in which I was immersed. I thought sardonically that I had become one of those imbecilic gothic heroines, right down to the fog.

I hurried on, my muted footsteps swallowed in the
ka-thump, ka-thump
of my heart in my ears.

Suddenly a doorway, utilitarian and the same gray as the building, became visible. I stared at it, uncertain. Somehow knocking seemed foolish.

BOOK: Caught in the Middle
8.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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