“What ever happened to Chuck?” I asked Carol. She certainly should know. She dated the fellow our whole senior year. Chuck, the charmer, handsome blond hair, thin athletic build, the lead in the school play. He was the favorite of our headmistress, Mrs. Trimble.
“I believe he has married well,” Carol said. There was an ironic bite in her voice. “An older woman.”
“Yes, it would be an older woman. And wealthy.”
“So I hear.”
Carol and I sat under a white canopy set up in front of the old manor house of Maple Hill, a progressive boarding school for the talented few and the troubled children of the intelligent rich. We were attending a reunion. My first time back to Marystown, Massachusetts since I graduated. I didn’t fit in when I attended the school and I wasn’t fitting with my old classmates now. Except for Carol. I hadn’t been particularly talented. Didn’t paint, or act, or dance. I suppose I made it into the “troubled” category. At least my year’s stay at Maple Hill had been troubling. Chuck stood at the very center of my troubles.
A light rain fell on the canopy and splattered the flagstones around us. We shared an awesome view of the Berkshires, rolling on and on like a deep green wrinkled carpet. The overcast sky gave the landscape a richness so lacking in parched California where I now lived. They called them mountains here in the East. In California, they would barely make it as hills.
I found the scene oppressive. It was not the Berkshires fault. Nor Carol’s. It was a sense that Chuck had never left Maple Hill. His malevolent spirit had somehow seeped into the flagstone under my feet, pervaded the woods that surrounded us, defaced the bright yellow mansion with green shutters that lay behind us. Like the flash of a lightning bolt that illuminates an old cemetery, transforming a tranquil setting into a nightmare.
The drizzle had driven the others of our class inside. Good. I had run out of small talk. Sick of trying to justify my modest career as a private investigator to bankers, suburban housewives, television executives. They may have been troubled and talented thirty-five years ago. Now they were remarkably untroubled, prosperous and exceedingly dull.
Except for Carol. I hadn’t known her well at the school. She was the brightest, the prettiest, dated the biggest catch in the school. If Maple Hill had cheerleaders, she would have been one. Prom queen if we had a prom. But when you only had thirty-five students and an idealistic headmistress, you did without such accoutrements. She had accomplished much in her life. Gone to Radcliffe, married well then divorced, headed to the Congo as part of the Peace Corps, worked with disabled kids, volunteered for the liberal Senator Paul Wellstone in her home state of Minnesota.
“Chuck is why I came to the reunion,” I said.
Carol looked at me, startled. A thin woman with short brown hair, she had retained her good looks in an austere way. No make up. White shirt, jeans, Maple Hill sweatshirt. The kind of woman you expected to chair the meeting at the fundraiser.
“I wasn’t aware he was a friend of yours,” she said.
“Quite the opposite. It was at Maple Hill that I first came across evil. I took the discovery personally. I suspect it influenced my decision to become a private investigator. My year here has haunted me ever since. I was hoping this trip would free me of certain memories.”
It was strange to be discussing evil in the bucolic setting of the Western Massachusetts countryside, watching drops of rain fall on verdant hills. But we were.
“What memories?” Carol asked. Her tone suggested no surprise. She knew something about Chuck. She would have had to.
“You knew, of course,” I said.
Her bright blue eyes searched into mine. Yes, she knew something. But I doubted if she knew everything. Knew what I knew.
“About Chuck,” I said. “The real Chuck behind the mask.”
“He fooled me at the time. I guess I didn’t want to probe. He was so charming. Attentive. Flattering. Fun to be with. All the girls were envious. And Mrs. Trimble loved him.”
“He made certain that she did,” I said. “I can picture him now passing out the petit fours during a literary tea. Returning the plate to the table beside her chair. Squeezing her hand.”
Literary teas. How archaic, how distant from my life now in the San Francisco Bay Area. I hang out in a Victorian bar on Jack London Square and sip Oban neat. Hard to remember I once sat in a stiff oak chair with red leather cushions, huddled by a massive brick fireplace, hoping I wouldn’t be called upon to perform.
The literary tea had been a mandatory Sunday afternoon routine for seniors. All seven of us. The dark room, richly paneled in stained oak, stifled me. Mrs. Trimble sat imperiously in a rocking chair, glasses half way down her thin nose, gray hair pinned on top of her head, not a strand out of place, flowing silk dress falling below her knees. A brilliantly polished silver teapot and strainer, Wedgwood china teacups, saucers and sugar bowl sat next to her. It was a jacket and tie affair, which only added to my discomfort. I had endured each torturous session trying to avoid breaking a teacup, or being called upon to produce a poem.
“Chuck always had a poem to recite in that stentorian voice of his,” I said. “Mrs. Trimble was enthralled.”
“I wrote those poems for him. He could get me to do anything.”
“So you never had doubts,” I said.
“Doubts, yes. But nothing definite. I felt I knew him but did not know him at all. Like he was always acting. Never really there for me. But when I mentioned my doubts he would pour on the charm. Listen to my every word. Tell me stories about his early life that I now believe he made up. Then one day just before graduation Mrs. Trimble called me to her office.”
“So she knew.”
“Something had happened between them. Maple Hill was her life, the gift she felt she was born to give to young people. Chuck was her reward. She loved the adulation that Chuck so skillfully delivered. But more. She needed to feel she was changing him. That her progressive educational theories worked.”
“Chuck was an experiment for her?”
“More. I believe she fell in love with him. Platonic, of course. Then something happened. He betrayed her.”
“She told you what happened.”
“No. She warned me not to get too close to him. She was afraid I would marry him. So she told me his history.
“Chuck had a very beautiful and wealthy mother. She could not have children. She had adopted him in a failed attempt to use a child to hold her marriage together. Her husband left her anyway. She ended up with sole care for Chuck. And she was not strong with motherly traits.
“She sent him away to school after school. Each school experience ended badly. Petty theft, drinking, some girl would complain. The mother brought Chuck home and used him as an escort when going to the theater or the opera. It flattered her to be seen with an attractive younger man. No one suspected Chuck was her son. But she found his presence oppressive. Perhaps because of his actions. Or maybe having Chuck around made her feel old. In desperation she sent him to Maple Hill. Mrs. Trimble promised to change him.”
“She told you all this?”
“Yes, Then she said that she had failed. ‘Do not trust Chuck,’ she warned me. He’s …”
“She didn’t complete the sentence. Broke down in tears. But I believed that was the word she was about to use. You have no idea what a blow such a statement was to Mrs. Trimble. I had known her for years. She believed there was good in everybody. It was her job to find the good, let it blossom. But she could not find it in Chuck. Her faith in human beings collapsed because of Chuck. She became a disillusioned woman. She lost her sparkle, her idealism, her reason to live. She aged before my eyes.”
The rain began to come down harder. But we didn’t move. Both of us had traveled in time back those many years.
“I will never forgive Chuck for what he did to Mrs. Trimble,” Carol said.
I needed to tell her my story. I had crossed a continent for this moment. I told her about the gang Chuck formed among the boys. Recruited from the troubled ones. He was the leader, the enforcer. Under the democratic façade of progressive education a regime of terror reigned.
“One day I sat on my bed in the boys dormitory,” I said, “and felt a lump in the mattress. I upended the mattress. A Lugar pistol. Chuck came in to retrieve the gun. He had hidden it there when a faculty member entered the dorm.
“I remember the evening when Chuck and his friends invited me outside for a smoke. We left the dormitory and walked into a bitterly cold Massachusetts night. The moon lit our way, brightly reflected off the snow. I shivered.
“We had only traveled fifty yards when Chuck stopped. The gang stood around me in a circle. Chuck started to hit me. Soon they all joined in and I fell down into the snow. My glasses came off and my nose started bleeding. Blood on the snow. I tried to get up to fight back. Chuck pushed me back down. I felt small, weak, lying there and they seemed so strong, powerful, hovering over me. They kicked me. My side, head, legs, stomach ached from the blows. I feared – almost hoped – I would lose consciousness. Terrible, uncontrollable fright, coursed through me.
“Chuck spoke directly to me, a smile on his face, voice filled with hatred. ‘We run this place. You say a word to anyone and we’ll kill you.’ I believed him.”
I paused for a moment. Then I continued.
“I guess the worse thing about that incident was the look on Chuck’s face. The smile. A touch of saliva at the corners of his mouth. Flushed red cheeks. He was enjoying himself.”
Carol and I sat for a few minutes without saying a word. I had told no one about Chuck. Not my parents. Not friends later in life. I needed to talk about Chuck. About the beating. Carol heard me out. I felt purged. Lightened somewhere deep inside of me. She reached for my hand and squeezed it.
“He was evil,” she said.
“I suspect he still is,” I said.
* * *
I didn’t think about Chuck after my Massachusetts trip. I fell into my daily routine living on my boat at the Jack London Square Marina, investigating insurance claims, hanging out at Big Emma’s the Victorian bar run by my best friend Lori Mazzetti. A pleasant life. Little pressure, sufficient income to cover my modest expenses, plenty of time free to read, to talk with Lori, to occasionally sail. Fitted me.
One afternoon, as I sipped my Oban single malt and leafed through that day’s issue of the Oakland Tribune, I found myself staring into Chuck Hardgrove’s smug face. He was impeccably dressed on a tux. One arm wrapped around an older woman in a wedding dress. Petit thin woman. Quite pretty. Yet the effort she had expended in remaining so was expressed in the taut skin on her face. Carol had mentioned he had recently re-married. But why the wedding picture now? Then I read the headline, “Doubts, Fears Filled Latham’s Last Days.”
“Damn,” I shouted. “He’s murdered his wife.”
The din of bar conversation abruptly stopped. All eyes turned toward me. Lori dropped a shot glass on the floor and came out from behind the bar and over to my table.
“Who murdered who?” she asked me as she sat down in the booth opposite me.
Her naturally blond hair was tied up into a ponytail by a red ribbon. Tight white sweater, red mini-skirt and matching boots completed the outfit. Lori wasn’t a subtle dresser, but few customers complained. At least she had clothes on. Behind her, painted in rich oils, floated Big Emma, all 300 pounds of her, lying stark naked on a crimson settee with curved gold legs. Not the finishing school type. I suspect Big Emma was creative in her way. I shoved the paper toward Lori.
“Chuck killed Beverley Latham.”
“Who’s Chuck? Oh, I see the husband, Charles Hardgrove. Of course he did, but he’s going to get off.”
“How do you know that?” I asked.
“Read the story. I’ve been following it on Court TV. The cops have dropped charges.”
“I don’t need to read the story. I know he did it. I went to school with the fellow.”
I explained to Lori about my trip back to Maple Hill and my talk with Carol about Chuck.
“He’s evil,” I continued. “I never met anyone so completely lacking in human feeling. He threatened to kill me once. I believed him then. I believe now he’s killed his wife.”
“Read the story. The evidence clears him.”
She shoved the paper back at me. The patrons returned to their conversations. In the back I heard the banging of dice cups. I took a deep swallow, finishing off my scotch and absorbed the story. Lori got up to refill my glass. She knew I would need another drink.
And what a story it was. Beverley was born poor on a small farm in Eastern Tennessee. A striking beauty, she became a runner-up in a Miss World contest. Then she met Don Latham who owned a newspaper chain worth over 100 million dollars. They married and she transformed herself into a socialite. Don spent his last years in a wheelchair being taken care of by his attractive wife.
The husband passed away three years ago. Chuck had met Beverley at a pro-life fundraiser. Chuck, pro-life. What a gas. She was now sixty-five years old. No problem for Chuck. As Mrs. Trimble could testify, he was good with the elderly ladies. They were married within weeks. Seemed a fair proposition. Don Latham had the wealth to attract a beautiful younger wife. Beverley figured she now had the money to attract a handsome younger man.
I looked again at the photo of Chuck with Beverley. Her smile seemed strained, like she was trying too hard. What was this marriage really about? Sex? In part. I doubted if she had gotten much from Don in his wheelchair days. Pre-Viagra days. Then I looked at the tight skin, the carefully made-up face. She was trying to cling to a youth long lost. Defy nature. She didn’t want to die. With her wealth, she planned to live forever. She barely made six months.
Beverley died just as she was preparing to write Chuck out of her will. Their relationship had been stormy. Beverley reported to a friend that she had gone on a jeep ride with him within weeks of her death. He swung the vehicle sharply to the left. She felt herself flying out of her seat. He reached for her seat belt. But couldn’t get hold of it. She told her friend she thought he was going to unbuckle it. He claimed to her he was checking it for her safety. And there was the matter of a former wife who died under mysterious circumstances.
Of course Chuck murdered Beverley Latham. Everything fitted. Except, as I read on, the evidence at the scene of her death. Chuck had talked his bride into an overnight camping trip to a private lake on their Sierra Foothills estate. They drove there in a jeep. A small rowboat was kept at the lake moored on a pier. They set up camp, ate a supper composed of French bread, Brie and Mumm champagne. According to Chuck’s story – and there were no witnesses – she had wanted to make love. He refused, saying he was too tired. She wandered off clad only in bra and panties. He fell asleep.
When he found her missing the next morning, he called the cops. They discovered the boat floating in the middle of the lake. She had drowned. There was only one set of footprints crossing the sand, going to the pier. Hers. They found a pair of her sneakers in the boat, covered with sand. The cops concluded that they had insufficient evidence to indict Chuck.
“He did it,” I said. Lori had returned with my Oban.
“But he couldn’t have.”
“Chuck is smart, calculating. He planned it all out. He killed her.”
“It has nothing to do with you.”
“We will see about that. No one beats me up and gets away with it. Maybe I couldn’t do anything about Chuck then, but I sure in hell am going to act now. I have some phone calls to make.”
I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and called a friend of mine, Connie Hernandez, who works on the Trib. We have a very pleasant on again off again relationship.
“God, I haven’t heard from you in ages,” Connie said.
“Not my fault. You took that assignment in Sacramento.”
“Ninety miles away too far for you?”
“Why do I feel this is not a social call?”
“Truthfully, I do need some help. Remember the Latham case?”
“Remember it? That was my story from the get go. The network people came to me. I was working out of Sac when it happened. The ranch and lake were nearby. I arrived within an hour of the cops. Saw the crime scene. That is if there was a crime.”
“There was a crime.”
“How in the hell do you know?”
“I know Charles Hardgrove.”
I told her my Maple Hill story.
“But what can you prove?”
“I’m going to get the bastard somehow or other. But I need your help. Just a phone number. The daughter Sherry Powers. She’s the one who would have benefited most from the new will the mother was drawing up.
“No problem, but you know my terms.”
“Dinner out at Chez Panisse.”
“That’ll get you in the sack but no phone number.”
“An exclusive on any results from my investigation.”
“You got a deal.”
I called Powers and explained to her my interest in Chuck and my present profession as a private eye. She was skeptical until I made her an offer that was hard to refuse.
“I don’t want one penny from you now. If I succeed in pinning the murder on Hardgrove, I’ll want $10,000.”
“Will be faxing you a contract to that effect. Sign it and fax it back with directions for getting to the lake where the murder happened. Also a letter granting me permission to be on the Latham property would be handy.”
“No problem. Until a court says something different, I own half that estate. You’ll need a jeep.”
“I’ll get one.” I hung up. Then I called Carol. I told her about the murder. The story never made it to Minneapolis.
“I’m coming with you.”
“All the way from Minnesota?”
“I feel responsible. I didn’t do anything about Chuck after Mrs. Trimble spoke to me. There’s something worse. Something I didn’t tell you at the reunion.”
“After graduation, Chuck turned up at my house. I was out of town. He had met my parents earlier in the year. He went into my father’s study, took one of his checks, and made it out for $5,000. He forged my father’s name and cashed it.”
“Your father didn’t prosecute.”
“I asked him not to. We all covered for him, Jim. I’m coming.”
And so it was set up. She would fly into SFO, I’d rent a jeep, and we’d head for the Sierras.
“What about me?” Lori asked.
“It has nothing to do with you.”
“You have something to do with me. What does this Carol look like?”
Lori and I were once in a relationship. We are now closer than we were then. We lived our own independent lives, yet each of us was quite capable of jealousy. This time it was Lori’s turn.
“An old school chum. A middle-aged lady.”
“Your age. And you still look pretty decent.”
“Bumpy ride. You’d have to sit in the back sidewise. The wind will ruin your hair. And the bugs.”
“Oh, buzz off.”
* * *
Carol and I bumped our teeth-jarring way up a rutted, rock-strewn road into a pine forest. The road took a sharp turn as it made its snake way up the side of a small mountain. We had a view of thousands of acres of grasslands, owned by the Latham family. Black specks, cattle, were the only signs of life.
Our road began to follow the bank of a small creek. The frothy water cascaded down the hill, each molecule determined to beat its mate to the bottom. Blue lupine, yellow asters and orange centered madias filled the sunny spots by the water. Further back, under the pines, ferns took over.
“Hard to imagine all of this beauty and the grasslands below belong to one person,” Carol said.
“If we don’t do something about it, that person will be Chuck Hardgrove.”
The road leveled off. I spotted a clearing to our right. It overlooked a mountain lake. I pulled into the clearing and turned off the engine of the Jeep. A peaceful site. All I heard was the buzz of bees. A half-dozen blackbirds landed on the grass and then took off in a flutter. Light blue pygmy butterflies flitted among purple irises.
Carol and I got out to look around. The remains of a campfire, surrounded by small stones, occupied a small knoll at the lake end of the clearing. We walked over to take a closer look at the campsite. The spot was protected from the wind by a small stand of pine. Two indentations in the grass indicated where sleeping bags had once lain. A small trail headed down the side of the hill toward the lake, no more than one hundred feet away.
“Let’s check out this path,” I said. “Supposedly the Latham woman wandered down there wearing nothing but a bra and panties.”
The path led to a sandy beach about six feet wide. At the other end of the beach stood a rickety pier. A small wooden boat with an outboard attached was moored at the end. A rocky shore and a stand of pines covered the other end of the lake.
“This is the scene described in the newspaper,” I said. “No footprints in the sand. Wind and rain in the months since Latham’s death has obliterated the evidence. Which is what I had expected.”
“Then why are we here?”
“To get a feel of the place. To try to imagine what really happened.”
I stood, with Carol beside me, staring at the sand, the boat, the lake. Nothing came to me. A dead-end. But there had to be an answer.
“Carol, do me a favor. Just walk across that sand and stand on the pier. Don’t return. I’ll come out to join you.”
She did as I asked. I knelt down by the end of the beach and inspected her footprints. Made by Nikes. Not the same as Latham’s would have been. The paper said she wore sneakers. Probably tennis shoes. Carol’s prints were quite faint where she had crossed the dry sand. However, there was one distinct footprint in a narrow strip of wet sand next to the pier. Footprints made by shoes. I had the beginning of a thought. I walked out to join Carol.
“Walk to the end of the pier,” I said. “I’ll follow.”
Her shoes left barely visible traces of sand on the wooden planks of the pier. The cops must have seen these as well. One pair of shoes walked to the pier. The same pair walked to the boat. The sandy shoes that made these imprints were found in the boat. Why had she taken her shoes off?
“We’ve seen all there is to see,” I said. “I’ve got to make one call on my cell. Then let’s go visit Chuck.”
The call was to my reporter friend Connie. Had two facts to verify. They checked out.
“So you how did he do it?” Carol asked.
“I have an idea. Perhaps enough of one to shake the truth out of Chuck. He always was an arrogant bastard. He’s no doubt looking for an opportunity to brag. We will furnish him with one.”
* * *
We drove down to the ranch house. Looked more like a mansion than a working farm. An enormous sheltered porch covered the entire front of the structure. A Porche was pulled up in front. I had called Chuck earlier and arranged the meeting. He seemed quite upbeat. Said he was looking forward to seeing “an old school chum.” One hell of an actor.
“I’m coming in with you,” Carol said.
“No, you’re not. He doesn’t know you’re with me. And he won’t open up if he knows I have a witness. Watch through one of the windows.” I handed her my cell. “I’ll gesture with my hand if I need you to call 911.”
I walked up to the huge carved-oak front door and pressed the door bell. Chuck swung the door open. He wore tight brown gabardine pants, a loose-fitting gray silk shirt, a string tie, and a Stetson hat. The very image of a valley ranch owner. Behind him was an immense room dominated by a fireplace made of hewn granite. A tiger skin rug, complete with snarling head, lay in front of it. Tacky.
“Great to see you, Jim. It seems like a century since our graduation. You haven’t changed much. Recognize you anywhere.”
“And you as well.”
His naturally blond hair had thinned, but not by much. His face still held a boyish charm. His cheeks were touched with red. Almost like a woman’s treated with blush. I knew what that meant. He was excited. Looking forward to the confrontation to come.
“I hear you’re a private eye now. So what brought you to search me out?”
“I read the papers.”
“Ah, wanting to con a few bucks out of my late wife’s daughter? You know the cops have cleared me of having anything to do with that unfortunate accident.”
“Unfortunate for her. Fortunate for you.”
“Live right and you get the breaks.”
“Doesn’t seem as if her death had upset you that much.”
“I’ve learned to deal with my grief,” he said.
“I bet you have.”
“So you’ve been up to our pretty lake?”
“Yes, and I know how you did it.” Not a flicker on that mask of his. Chuck was always in control.
“But I couldn’t have. You read the report in the papers. Only one set of footprints across the sand to the pier. Her shoes.”
“Her shoes,” I said. “Your feet.”
He smiled broadly. “My, you are a smart one. What precisely are you saying?”
“You got her drunk on the champagne that you spiked with Seconal.”
“Yes, I checked. A good friend of mine, Connie Hernandez, covered the story for the Trib.”
“Ah, the pretty Spic.”
He was playing me.
“The coroner found barbiturate in her system. Not enough to kill but plenty, combined with the alcohol, to knock her out.”
“She had difficulty sleeping.”
“Not that night. You picked her up and carried her to the edge of the sand. Then you laid her down. Took her shoes off. Stuffed your feet into them. Picked her up again and shuffled to the pier.
“That’s where you made your first mistake. You stepped on the strip of moist sand next to the pier. You left a footprint too deep for a light woman like Beverley. Connie noticed it. Pointed it out to the cops. But neither she nor the cops connected the indentation to the combined weight of you and your wife. The footprint was measured, photographed. The evidence is in the police investigation file.”
“The other mistake.”
“You carried her out to the boat. You took her shoes off your feet and placed them in the boat. You wanted them found, covered with sand. You knew they would match the footprints. But why would she take her shoes off? It made no sense.”
“Caused no problem for the cops.”
“It’s the string of evidence that adds up. The Seconal, the deep footprint, the shoes in the boat.”
He didn’t respond. Not a muscle in his face. Just that placid confident smug visage I had remembered over the years. The expression he used when serving petit fours at our literary tea.
“Then you placed her in the boat,” I continued, “got in and motored out into the middle of the lake. You turned off the engine, dumped her in the water. That’s when she woke up.
“You had to hold her head under the water while she struggled, careful that she didn’t claw you. But you are a powerful man and she, a thin weak woman. After a short while she stopped moving. She drowned. Then you swam to the rocks by the other shore, climbed out and returned to your campsite.”
“Come with me,” he said. “I want to show you something.”
I followed him into the next room. Not a good move as there were no windows in the room. I was on my own. He pointed to a large glass cabinet that covered the wall.
“My gun collection.”
The Lugar was right in the middle. I couldn’t help but stare at it.
“You recognize my old Lugar,” he said. “That’s the very one that you found under your mattress.”
“I figured as much.”
He got a key out of his pocket, unlocked the cabinet, and retrieved the German gun.
“Remember what I said to you that night out in the snow?”
“That you’d kill me if I said anything about your gun, about the gang.”
“And I meant it.”
“Did Mrs. Trimble discover your gun on her own?”
“Yes, the nosy old bitch. Threatened to tell my mother. Couldn’t have that. So I told her what I told you.”
“And she believed you.”
“I would have, too.”
“I’m sure you would. You know, you were her one big failure.”
“Failure? You call $100 million failure?”
He raised the Lugar, clicked off the safety and pointed it at my heart.
“Yes, it happened as you say. The stupid cops missed the importance of the Seconal. I didn’t even remember the wet sand. Then the shoe in the boat business. No matter. You’re telling nobody. I figured you were on to something. That’s why I came up here without staff. No witnesses. Just an intruder shot dead.”
I could have gotten the draw on him back in the main room. I had my revolver with me. But I had to get the fellow to talk. A lot of good his talking would do me now.
That look came over Chuck’s face, breaking through the mask he always wore. The expression that was on his face the night he beat me up. A smile so cruel it contorted the otherwise smooth surface of his cheeks. Saliva formed at the corners of his mouth, almost foam. His flushed red cheeks burning with anticipation. Of the kill. Me.
He began to squeeze the trigger.
A sound from behind Chuck. He jerked his head back to check his rear. A mistake. I knocked the Lugar from his hand just as Carol smashed an ornate Chinese vase over his skull. She stood over him and started to kick him in the groin.
I dragged her away. She collapsed into my arms.
“Thanks for not following my instructions,” I said.
“When you left the living room, I knew I had to act. Entered by the back door.”
I pulled out my Smith & Wesson Airweight revolver. He began to stir.
“How about a million dollars?” he asked. “The two of you split it.” Then he smiled as if nothing had happened. “Or give it to Maple Hill.”
“Too late,” Carol said. “No deals. You ruined Mrs. Trimble’s life.”
He looked at me. I shook my head.
“Now we plan to ruin yours,” I said.
Carol dialed 911.
“I never forgot that beating,” I said to Chuck. “And I don’t forgive. I always settle old scores. It’s just that this one took thirty-five years.”