“If you feel that way about me, don’t come to visit,” Godfrey James yelled as the guard led him out of the Trenton Prison’s visiting room.
Alex James grit his teeth. After an argument with his estranged brother, Alex didn’t relish battling the rain to return to Manhattan. He’d be better off finding a cheap place to stay and getting something to eat. He could head back to the city the following morning. Good thing his boss knew that he was here. Ashamed of brother’s incarceration, he’d told Mr. Alcot that he checked in on his ailing aunt every Friday afternoon.
Alex hurried to the ticket counter in the bus station. “It’s pouring out there. When’s the next bus?”
“Sorry son. You just missed it. The next one isn’t until very later in the evening,” the agent replied.
Alex would have to go with Plan B.
“Do you know a place I can rent a room for the night?”
The man behind the window took one look at the dark circles under Alex’s eyes as well as his sagging shoulders and wrote a number on a slip of paper.
“Go to Maude’s B&B. It’s not the Hilton, but the rooms are clean, and the old lady makes a great breakfast. Tell her I sent you. She likes referrals.”
“Thanks,” Alex said walking out to the taxi stand.
En route to the inn, Alex popped another Tums into his mouth. The way his luck was running, the innkeeper was probably a crazy old lady.
A half hour later, the cab arrived at the B&B. Alex gathered his jacket collar tighter around his neck and inside. The rain, which subsided during the drive to Maude’s Inn, returned with a vengeance. After handing the driver a paltry tip, Alex raced up the rickety wooden steps and rang the bell.
“Who’s there?” a nervous voice asked.
Alex positioned himself in front of the peephole so the proprietress could look him over.
“My name is Alex Reynolds. The train station attendant said that you might have a vacancy.”
The door opened with a chain attached.
“Can I see some identification?” Maude Franklin asked.
Alex held his driver’s license at eye level. He heard the chain come off the latch.
“Sorry if I appeared a bit paranoid, but one never knows who’s roaming these streets with the prison so close,” she said.
Alex shook out his coat and hung it on a hook in the mud room and followed her into the parlor. The furnishings and draperies would have made an antique dealer’s heart flutter. On closer inspection though, Alex could see how worn the upholstery was and concluded that Maude had bought them at some show. She and her family were probably the original owners, and they made sure they got their money’s worth out of everything.
The proprietress had a thick neck and big chest. Plump hips were squeezed into a floral print dress about to give way at the seams. At five feet nine inches, she was a good sized woman. The lace trim and buttons on the cuffs and hem were as yellow as the woman’s cigarette stained teeth. Her cheeks matched her bloodshot eyes. The Gibson girl hairdo was about five decades too late to be considered stylish.
When Maude turned to leave the room, the seams in her stockings stood out like a sore thumb. “Please fill out the registry card on the coffee table. I’ll be back with a cup of tea and honey to warm you.”
Alex slipped out of his loafers and walked over to the living room fireplace to dry his soaking wet feet.
Maude returned with a dainty china tea cup and matching saucer.
He savored every sip of the hot liquid. “Thank you. It’s like my grandmother’s. I can taste the cinnamon and honey.”
He handed her the delicate china, which she placed on a lamp table.
“If you’ll follow me, I’ll show you to your room. It’s not fancy like those big city motels, but I keep it spic and span.”
Maude walked upstairs and opened the door. A four-poster bed took center stage in a room with starched curtains on two sets of windows. A fireplace was on the opposite wall. Paradise.
“I’ll get a fire going. It will keep you cozy through the night,” she said. “There are hot towels on the radiator. Why don’t you take a relaxing shower? I’ll go down and start dinner. I’ll call when it’s ready. It will be nice to have some company.”
“Are there any other guests?”
Maude shook her head. “Another prison visitor. He’s been moping in his room for two days. Sad story. See you in a bit.”
As soon as Maude closed the door, Alex stripped and hopped into the shower. The hot water and milled soap felt great on his skin. The day’s tension faded. The need for sleep superseded hunger.
Alex wrapped himself in a terry cloth robe hanging on the back of the door and collapsed on the bed.
About an hour later, Maude knocked on the door. “Dinner is served.”
When Alex opened, she handed him his clothes, neatly pressed and on hangers.
He rolled his eyes. “They were soaking wet.”
Maude let go of a girlish giggle. “I raised three sons and a daughter. I’ve seen it all. While you were asleep, I took the liberty of laundering your clothes.”
Unaccustomed to kindness from strangers, Alex forced a smile. He followed the proprietress downstairs and into a spacious dining room with two settings.
After saying grace, she placed ample portions of turkey, mashed potatoes, carrots, stuffing, and cranberry sauce on his plate.
He savored every mouthful. “This is fantastic. I can’t thank you enough for your hospitality.”
When he’d finished eating, Alex noticed an upright piano opposite the living room fireplace.
He walked over and lifted the cover. “May I?”
“Be my guest,” Maude said. “It belonged to my husband. No one has played it in years. I’m afraid it may need tuning.”
Before long, she joined him in song. By the time the cuckoo clock struck nine, Alex felt sleepy.
“Have a good rest, dear,” she said. “I’m going to finish knitting an afghan I’ve been working on for my granddaughter.”
Alex went upstairs and slid under the covers, more mellow than he’d felt in weeks. About three hours later, loud noises from the room down the hall roused him out of a deep slumber.
He peered out to investigate. The hostile voices grew more hostile. Alex walked toward the argument and pressed his ear against the door.
“If you’d been kinder to my daughter, she wouldn’t be in that hellhole,” Maude said.
“With you for a mother-in-law, what do I expect? From the minute Roslyn brought me into this house, you’ve treated me like trash.”
“That’s because you are. How a college-educated girl like my baby could marry a no account garage mechanic I’ll never know. She didn’t rob the bank or kill the teller.”
Alex peaked through the keyhole. A man of about forty unbuttoned his shirt. “These aren’t hickeys.”
Alex squinted to see scratch marks on the man’s chest.
He continued his tirade. “Your baby girl does drugs. She used her Ivy League degree as a cover for her habit. Then she made a fool of me. I thought she was a lady instead of a good lay. I should have banged her and left.”
Maude dried a falling tear. “My daughter’s had it rough. After my husband died, she took odd jobs to pay tuition and help me to keep this inn going.”
Maude pointed to her knees. “My arthritis is going to do me in long before she’s released.”
The enraged man walked across the room and lifted a fireplace poker over her head. “I’ve traveled from California to see Rosalyn. If you don’t shut your trap, I’ll put you out of your misery.”
Alex couldn’t let the big lug hurt an innocent old lady. He kicked in the door and stepped between them.
“Drop that thing.”
The man turned to Maude. “Who’s he?”
“A paying boarder,” Maude replied. “Alex, I can handle the situation. Please leave.”
“Get the hell out of here,” the enraged man screamed.
Alex quickly landed a right jab to the man's jaw.
He tipped backward and hit his head against the edge of the fireplace’s marble mantle.
Alex saw blood oozing from the back of his head. “He’s hurt. We should call a doctor.”
Maude picked up the poker and whacked her son-in-law several more times.
Alex screamed, “What are you doing? Are you insane?”
Maude’s eyes seemed to have glazed over. She lifted the bloody poker and turned toward Alex. “You’re next.”
“What did I do?” he said, taking a couple of steps back.
Maude laughed. “I’ve been trying to get rid of that useless piece of crap for years. Roslyn never should have married him. If I’d let him testify, Roslyn would’ve fried in the hot seat. He was out to destroy her. You’re the perfect patsy.”
Maude raised the poker to strike Alex. To her chagrin, the son-in-law rallied to pull it out of her hand, hitting her in the forehead.
”You son of a bitch,” she cried, collapsing on the rug.
The son-in-law moved to attack Alex but collapsed on the floor.
Alex stooped to check his pulse. He was gone. In death, he’d taken Maude with him.
Alex ran back to his room, hurried into his clothes, and dialed a cab service, making sure to give them a location two blocks from Maude’s place. He hurried downstairs, tore up his registration card, and wiped down everything he’d touched. After he’d locked the front door, Alex walked in the pouring rain to the pickup spot.
A few minutes later, the cab arrived.
Alex plunked his wet bottom on the back seat. “Thanks, buddy. I need to catch a train to New York City. My father had a heart attack. I want to say goodbye before he dies.”
“Sorry about that son. I’ll get you there, but the first bus isn’t until early in the morning. You’ll have to camp out in the waiting room for several hours until it arrives.”
The noise of an arriving bus woke Alex from uncomfortable slumber on a bench. Jumping on, he seized the first seat and closed his eyes, but visions of Maude’s lifeless body on the carpet forced them open.
When the operator pulled into the Port Authority Bus Terminal, he stepped into the main concourse with a throbbing headache. He located a public phone, dialed information for the upstate precinct, and called in an anonymous report to the desk sergeant about Maude’s passing. The chances of being traced were slim to none. Besides, he hadn’t murdered anyone; Maude and her son-in-law killed each other.
# # #
Joan Ramirez has published The Last Hurrah of General Jackson as well as other mystery stories online. Her third nonfiction book—Let it Flow, Let it Go Leadership was published in the Fall of 2014. She has received a favorable review from the White House for her children’s book—Jamie is Autistic: Learning in a Special Way. For comments, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.