Being a novel, all characters, events, dialogue and representations are fictional ... and in no way are meant to represent any real or living persons or events... except the few annual events that are used to move me through time. The opinions expressed are my own, and not necessarily those of my author. And the story is copyrighted, by my author of course. Oh, and from time to time I may include some real time events to keep the blog more authentic. Comments and suggestions will be appreciated and seriously considered as the story moves along.

If you are just joining us, start with the Prologue and Chapter One on March 1, 2011, in the Archives.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Chapters 91 and 92

Dear Readers:
 A reminder that the remainder of My Second Wind is not in first person, and not in real time. Enjoy. 
Jeanne S. Guerra

Chapter 91
   As Maggie parked the truck in back of the museum next to Winston’s car, she noticed a light coming from the trailer. It was after closing and the museum was now dark. The construction crew had long since left, but Windy was still here, working.
   She sat a few minutes longer, deciding what to do. Should she wait for Colin? Should she go get him first? Had he even gotten her message? No, I need to know, she thought. I need the facts. I can do this, she said to herself. She took her briefcase, walked to the trailer and knocked on the door.
   Winston opened it questioningly but seemed delighted to see her. “My goodness, my dear! Come right in! What a nice surprise. Twice in one day! More questions about your wonderful windmill? Would you like some tea? Sit down, sit down,” he said escorting her to his desk at the far end of the trailer. He’d taken his jacket off and draped it carefully on the back of his leather chair. His bow tie was undone and his spectacles were folded on the desk next to his enormous pocket watch and chain. Maggie thought this was the first time she’d seen him out of his complete “costume.” Did he look younger? She knew now how much younger he really was.
   He moved around to the other side of his huge desk, grinning at her. “Please, my dear, sit down. To what do I owe this unexpected visit?” 
   Maggie looked at him, and wondered if she wasn’t mistaken after all about him. For the most part, he still fit the White Rabbit profile, harmless and intent on his museum mission. She remained standing, not returning his smile. Placing her briefcase in the chair, she opened it and reached into it. She took out the yearbook and held it out to him. Windy looked at her, questioning, and then at the book. 
   “I found a photo of you and Bennett Boyle in this old yearbook. He was B.J. back then and dated Anna, Jamie’s mother ... He’s Jamie’s father isn’t he?” 
   Winston tensed, and sat down heavily with a sigh. “Yes, I believe so, my dear.”
   “And in the picture, you were with Marsha White. She’s the girl who jumped off the biology building that spring. Charlie White’s little sister.” 
   “Ah, yes, good old La Ventanna. Truly a window to the past.” 
   “What happened, Windy?”
   He looked up at her for a long moment, as if trying to decide what to say. He sighed heavily again and said, almost resignedly, “Alas, poor Mars. She had such illusions. I only dated her to keep up appearances, you know what I mean? She said she was in love with me ... imagine that. When I told her I was gay and was breaking it off with her, she went crazy. Silly girl thought we were going to get engaged, just like B.J. and Anna.”
   “They were engaged?” 
   “Not officially. But, of course, they’d slept together so thought they loved each other, you know what I mean?” 
   Maggie put the yearbook back in her briefcase and moved it to the floor, sitting down in the previously offered chair across from him and waited.
   “Anyway, Mars was obsessed with wanting to get married. She kept telling me I couldn’t be gay–she would’ve been able to tell! And here’s the kicker, if I was gay, she knew she could love me enough to turn me straight. Such nonsense. She wouldn’t leave me alone, you know what I mean? Kept calling me, sending me notes. That night she followed me to the science building. Said she thought I was going to see another girl. Then when she saw B.J. and me copying the biology exam —”
“Life science was not our forte, B.J.’s or mine. The only way we would pass the stupid course was to borrow the exam questions ahead of time. And we had to pass. They don’t like it when Saddle Tramps fail courses, you know what I mean? Especially B.J. He was to be president the next year. Anyway, we met that night to get the exam, had most of it copied when she showed up. Stupid girl. Like I said, she must have followed me. 
  “She ... ,” he laughed, “she talked about the honor code of the ‘vaingallant’ Saddle Tramps and all that crap.”  
   Maggie had a sudden sickening insight. “She didn’t kill herself, did she, Winston?”
He looked at her hard, trying to decide exactly how much she knew, what she’d figured out from the stupid yearbook. It was his one main fear. Now he’d have to deal with her just like he dealt with all the rest. He frowned, remembering the night 25 years ago. “She was going to turn us in and wouldn’t listen to reason. Started getting loud, hysterical ... I was just trying to get her to calm down, keep her quiet, you know what I mean?” He shrugged and then continued calmly. “So I slapped her. She fell back and must’ve tripped on something ... her head hit the corner of the lab table ... 
    “B.J. panicked and wanted to call an ambulance, but I knew she was dead. It was just a horrible freak accident. 
   “I almost had to slap Bennett, too, but he finally came around and knew what we had to do. I typed up the suicide note and put it in her pocket. It was perfect. Everyone knew she’d freaked out when we broke up, so it was easy for them to believe the note. 
    “While B.J. cleaned up the blood in the lab, I took her to the roof — she was just a little wisp of a girl, you know what I mean? — and threw her off so it looked like she jumped. Her head hit the stone steps. In the dead of the night, no one saw or heard a thing. I went back inside and finished copying the exam, put it back and we left.” He shrugged his shoulders as if that was all there was to it. Just a little cleaning up.
    “They found her the next morning, and because of the note, no one even looked in the lab for anything.” 
   Tapping his head, he continued, “That was smart thinking on my part, you know what I mean?  And of course the imbecilistoc police readily bought the suicide angle. Forensics wasn’t much in play back in those days. And definitely no security cameras or anything.
   “But Anna didn’t buy it. She kept saying there was no way Mars would have killed herself. Too religious and all. She wouldn’t let it go. Day of the funeral, B.J. was definitely stressed and told Anna to drop it or he’d leave her. But it was Anna who left. Just up and disappeared, you know what I mean? B.J. was frantic to find her. He really loved her. The fool didn’t even use the exam questions we took and failed the damn course. 
  “Didn’t matter, though, because he immediately transferred to A&M. I think if Anna had stayed, he might have, too. After a couple of weeks, though, he stopped looking for her. I think he was afraid she somehow knew what we did, or afraid she would eventually guess and he’d lose her all over again.” 
   “And you?”
“And me what? Oh, the exam? Well of course I used it, but just enough to pass so as not to raise suspicion.  Always thinking, always thinking, you know what I mean?” He was tapping his head again.
Maggie shook her head angrily and gave him a direct stare. “I meant, hasn’t it bothered you all these years?”
   “Oh, goodness, no, my dear. It was just an accident. Wasn’t my fault. But it would have ruined everything ... everything. Since then, B.J. and I have kept our little secret, and evidently so did Anna, if indeed she’d figured it out. I tried for years to find her, just to be sure she hadn’t guessed the truth, but to no avail. Did you know she changed her last name? Yes, of course you knew that, didn’t you.  Anyway, I understand she died last summer — of natural causes — but seems she left a loose end.”
  “Jamie ...” Maggie said, more puzzle pieces falling into place.
  “Yes, Jamie. Bennett’s bastard son. Apparently, just before she died, Anna told Jamie about Bennett — about him being his father, I mean, or so the boy told me. Sort of a deathbed confession. So the boy was naturally curious. Right after the museum fire, he came around asking questions about B.J. I lied and told him I didn’t know Bennett well at all. I had hoped that was the end of it. But as you know, he saw me arguing with Bennett at the gala ... said he’d seen me talking with him at several functions he had worked last fall, too ... thought perhaps we were friends. Hmmph ... as if anyone could be friends with B.J. 
“Anyway, the young man kept coming back after class, asking more questions. He was in my wind energy class last semester, did you know? I couldn’t understand why he keep asking about B.J. And there was something so familiar about him ... about his mannerisms ... and his eyes ... Anna had the most beautiful soft brown eyes,” he said dreamily.
   Shaking his head a moment later, he looked directly at Maggie. “Imagine my surprise when I realized he was Anna’s son, their son ... and was right here at Tech ... and a Saddle Tramp of all things.” 
    “Imagine,” Maggie said carefully, thinking she should just get up and go. Okay, Lord, tell me when ... 
    Winston had a far away look in his eyes again. “Idaho. Jamie said they lived in Idaho. I never thought to look in Idaho. Who moves to Idaho on purpose, you know what I mean?” 
   Shaking his head again, he looked back at Maggie across the massive desk. “Anyway, I finally asked him if Bennett was his father and he said yes, he was curious about him now that he knew, and he was looking into the past. 
   “He begged me not to tell Bennett. Well, of course I wouldn’t tell him. That wouldn’t have been smart on my part. What if B.J. suddenly got all paternal or something and decided to tell his long-lost son the truth about why his mother had left? Why he wasn’t there to be a daddy for him? What if he was tired of keeping our little secret? I couldn’t take the chance, you know what I mean? Jamie intensely hated B.J. for leaving his mother and he didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of knowing he had a son.”
   “So why did you kill Bennett?” Maggie asked, hoping she’d guessed right again, but praying she was wrong. She didn’t relish the thought of being alone with a murderer. Where was Colin? I shouldn’t have come by myself. 
She shifted in her chair to calculate the distance to the door behind her. He’d have to come out from behind the desk, she thought. I might be able to push it up against him, pin him back there. No, the desk looks too heavy. I think I could make it to the door— but I need to know it all.   
“Why, Winston? He didn’t find out about Jamie, did he?”
   “So you know it was me instead of Jamie? Smart girl. No, Bennett never knew about his son. But he was getting pushy. He’d come back to Tech years ago at my insistence.  Shortly after he graduated, I threatened to reveal it all if he didn’t come back here. I thought I needed to keep an eye on him. I needed to keep him close, you know what I mean? So he came and worked his way up quickly to chief financial officer. He really was quite brilliant with money, you know. I had the perfect set up. Bennett would pretty much do anything I wanted ... When he was made chief of staff, we created the Wind Museum Foundation, skimming just a little off the top from the university ...”
“You embezzled university funds?” Maggie asked incredulously, forgetting for the moment the danger she might be in, desperately wanting to get all the facts.  
   “Not me, my dear. Bennett James Boyle, chief of staff. Certainly not enough to matter to the university, you know what I mean, but enough so I was able to build my dream.” He spread his arms wide indicating the museum. 
   “Funny thing is, we probably didn’t even need it. When my parents died, I sold the old homestead for the museum’s seed money. And turns out I’m not the only West Texan who fancies windmills. We’ve received more than enough donations to sustain us lavishly for several more decades, which of course you know. Made me a rather wealthy man in the meantime.” 
   “So why kill him?”
   “President Parker, for one thing,” Winston said flatly.
   “President Parker?” Maggie asked, unable to make the connection.
   “Yes, of course. Seems Parker’s a financial wizard, too, and evidently noticed some anomalies in the audits from a few years back. He kept telling Bennett he wanted to see the museum’s foundation books. No president has ever asked to see my books,” he said indignantly.
    “Bennett wanted me to straighten them out so he could show them to Parker. But ten years of books to clean up?  I didn’t want to go to all the trouble and couldn’t have done it without Miss Katherine getting suspicious.” “That’s what you and Boyle argued about at the museum gala? The books?” Maggie asked, vividly remembering the scene.
“Yes, my dear. Rather than clean them up, so to speak, I did him one better.” 
   “The museum office fire,” Maggie said, understanding. “You set it to get rid of the financial records.” Then she looked up, startled. “Did you set all of the fires?”
   “All? Oh no, my dear, but they were the perfect cover, don’t you know. Surprisingly, our young friend Jamie actually set the first three fires. Imagine that! Set them to punish Bennett, he said. He was so angry at B.J. for leaving his mother that in some twisted way he thought he was punishing Bennett by setting fire to different parts of the campus. Said he was really sorry your friend got hurt in Engineering. He didn’t mean for it to happen. You, of course, noted the next one in the tower? He made sure no one was around ... heated the door to keep people out... even saved the Saddle Tramp plaques and memorabilia. Wasn’t that just like a good Tramp?” Windy added sarcastically.  
    He continued, shaking his head and smiling, “Stupid boy, as though something as tame as a few fires could phase B.J. And then Bennett kicked the Saddle Tramps out of the tower! How ironic was that?!”
Maggie closed her eyes in anguish, praying Colin would hurry.  
    Winston continued, “But it was perfect for me, the fires, I mean, no matter who had set them. Ours was quite a ‘spectaspecial’ night, don’t you think? National publicity. Even CNN came. And I got to meet Diane Sawyer! You just can’t buy that kind of exposure, can you? No matter how good the marketing plan might be ... and yours was good, my dear, but the fire got us so much more.  
   Winston shrugged. “And then the money just poured in after the fire, you know what I mean? Easily more than made up for the damage. I knew it would. People open their wallets wide when they feel pity for you. And it took care of the records at the same time. Two birds with one stone, don’t you see.”
Maggie was horrified, looking at the man she thought she knew so well. “But a man died, Windy!”
“Oh, yes, my dear. My fault, entirely. I’d locked the office, but halfway through dinner slipped back in to set the timer and neglected to lock it again. That was too bad, but really helped with the sympathy angle. And he was just a waiter, nothing more. And we’ve set up that trust fund for his family. I’m sure it’s more than he would have ever made as a mere waiter. No real loss.”

Chapter 92
   Maggie was sick to her stomach, but knew she had to keep him talking, had to get the whole story. Where was Colin! Didn’t he get my message? Keep him talking ... 
   “So then, why kill Boyle? I don’t understand — if the records were gone and he didn’t know about Jamie?”
     “I couldn’t be certain he wouldn’t find out about his son. I’d finally recognized Jamie as Anna’s son, didn’t I? I couldn’t take the chance that Boyle might do the same. Or that Jamie might decide to tell him.” 
   “So you stabbed him,” she said sadly, remembering Boyle’s last moments. “But how did you get him to go up into the tower? He hated that place. And how did you get up there without a key? They keep it locked.”
   “That was simple. I used B.J.s.” He looked over her head as if focusing on a remembrance.
   “How did you get it?”
   His eyes returned to Maggie and he frowned. “It was really so simple, my dear. I walked into his office to tell him after all these years I’d found some information on Anna, but I would only tell him about her up in the tower ...”
    “That’s who he thought I was,” Maggie interrupted. “He called me Anna just before he died.”
Winston’s eyes flew open wide. “He was alive? He spoke to you!”
   “Yes. That’s how I made the first connection. This afternoon you called me Mags. Mags ... Mars ... nicknames, not often used. Bennett had called me Anna and asked Mars to forgive him. I didn’t remember the names until tonight, though, and started to put it together.”
“The bastard. If I’d known that, I would have had to let you die that night, too, my dear. I hate loose ends,” he said flatly.
   Maggie shivered, deciding it definitely hadn’t been a good idea to come here alone after all. But still, she needed to know everything. She might as well get it all. 
   Chuckling to himself, Winston continued as if he hadn’t been angry a moment before, “At first I was worried he didn’t have the courage to come up to the tower, too many memories, you know what I mean? We used to take Mars and Anna up there ... I wonder if that’s where the boy was conceived.”  
   Maggie’s stomach lurched, and she choked down bile while trying to comprehend what kind of monster thinks of things like that while confessing so calmly to the murder of another human being. She swallowed hard, glancing once more toward the door, calculating the number of steps.
   Winston continued, and she turned back to him as he said, “But I took the key from him and he came up after me that night. Soon as he came up the tower stairs, I just turned to him and pushed the knife in. I was waiting on the top step, so it was easy to get him in the chest. So easy. He was so surprised, the stupid fool.
   “Then I heard you call out to him, so I had to hide in the storage closet until you passed by. Almost didn’t make it in time. I didn’t realize anyone else was in the building. Bennett’s was the only car,” he said questioningly. 
   Realizing he expected her to explain, she said flatly, “I’d walked.”
   “Oh, well, then ... Anyway, I am sorry I had to hit you, my dear, but it wouldn’t do for anyone to find me there. He wasn’t supposed to be found until at least Monday, and then you spoiled it. I had to have time to get away, you know what I mean? ... If I’d known he talked to you ...” 
   Maggie closed her eyes and dropped her head. “God, Winston. I don’t know who you are. How could you?” At that instant, the last piece fell into place. She looked at him hard. “So then you staged Jamie’s suicide, too, letting him take the blame for Boyle’s death, didn’t you?” 
   He smiled wickedly at her, surprised she had all the pieces. He nodded ever so slightly. “Seemed a good way to tie things up neatly. What was it the newspaper said? ‘Student, still grieving for mother, kills administrator who kicked Saddle Tramps out of tower. Hangs himself in guilt.’ Just like Mars, the pieces fit, so everyone bought it. 
    “See?” he said proudly, tapping his head again. “Always thinking, always thinking. I knew he was housesitting for you — how was the honeymoon, by the way? It was a lovely wedding — so I went over before sunup that last morning — to avoid nosey neighbors, you know what I mean? He was asleep, but answered my knock. I told him I’d remembered some more about his parents, so he let me in. It was so easy. Just like his idiotic father. 
   “I showed him the knife I used to kill Bennett and he was shocked. Truly, he hadn’t even come close to figuring out about Mars, just too caught up in mourning his mother, and then hating Bennett. Being the benevolent soul that I am, I filled in the gaps for him, just like I’ve done for you this evening. That’s when he told me he’d set the other fires to punish his father.” He glanced at the small window next to his desk, high up on the wall, covered in heavy curtains.  “Do you think it might rain tonight, my dear?”
   His reality is slipping, Maggie thought, shaking her head slightly, much more frightened now. Still, she had to know. “But how did you manage to have him hang himself? He wasn’t threatened by the knife, was he?” She was unable to imagine that Jamie couldn’t somehow have gotten away from a man almost 25 years older.
   “Oh, no, my dear, I used this,” and he pulled a gun out from under the desk, pointing it straight at Maggie’s chest

No comments:

Post a Comment