What the Lady Wants


Page 18 of 19


Carlo and Mitch both froze.

"He almost killed Mae?" Gio turned his little obsidian eyes on Carlo. "What did you do?"

"Nothin'." Carlo stuck out his jaw. "He's lying. I wouldn't hurt Mae. Ever."

"You couldn't see her," Mitch said. "That night at the storage shed, you were shooting at her not me. You came within an inch of killing her, you moron."

"Is this true?" Gio's eyes impaled his grandson. "Did you do this thing?"

"I shot at him." Carlo's face was mulish. "I never shot at Mae."

"He missed her by a couple of inches," Mitch told Gio. "He thought he was shooting at me because she was wearing my jacket, but he almost killed her." He shook his head. "You know, giving him a gun is not a good idea."

"No more guns," Gio said to Carlo who glared at Mitch. "I want them all."

"You might want to take the knives away from him, too," Mitch suggested. "There was that incident with the finger...."

"You stay out of this," Gio snapped, and Mitch said, "No."

Gio surged up out of his desk chair. "Nobody says no to me—"

"Well, they do now," Mitch told him. "I've had it with all three of you. Who do you think you are, anyway? All of you, yapping away about how you want to protect Mae, and then you do everything you can to get her arrested or, God knows, killed. The police are after her, a murderer is on the loose and you take out the only guy who's protecting her." He jerked his thumb at his chest. "Me."

Claud stirred in his chair. "There is no murderer, and we know about the police. We've retained a lawyer. Now, if you'll—"

"She doesn't need your lawyer," Mitch said, exasperated. "I got her a lawyer. She's got everything she needs except me, and the only reason I'm not with her is because you guys think you're in a Godfather movie."

"She doesn't need your cheap shyster," Gio began.

Mitch turned on him. "He's not cheap. He's going to cost you a friggin' fortune. I was going to cover it, but after this last trick you pulled, he's going to bill you."

Claud narrowed his eyes, which made them essentially disappear. "And why would we pay for this lawyer?"

"Because I finally figured out what the hell was going on here," Mitch said. "And you are in deep trouble, all of you."

"Where is Mae Belle?" Gio demanded.

Mitch felt his temper hit boiling and tried hard to keep the lid on it. "Well, she was at my place, but knowing Mabel, she's hit the road by now, so I have no idea where she is, and that's your fault, too, Grandpa, so don't hassle me about it. You know, I could have figured out this whole thing a lot sooner if you hadn't been playing your dumb Master of the Universe games."

"Aside from Carlo's assaults, there is nothing—"

Mitch swung around to glare down at him. "Oh, no you don't, Claud. You're in this as deep as he is. You should never have messed with my credit, Claud. Bad move."

"What credit?" Gio scowled. "Who gives a damn about your credit? I want—"

"Forget it." Mitch leaned over the edge of the desk and stared him down. "What you want doesn't matter anymore. Mae's been arrested for murder, which means somebody actually did kill Armand."

"Nonsense." Claud dismissed him without a flicker of emotion. "You're just protecting your job."

Mitch took a deep breath. "Claud, pay attention here. The police arrested Mae. They don't do that because they're bored. They do that because they think they can get a conviction. If there was any doubt at all that Armand had been murdered, they wouldn't be arresting Mae. Trust me on this."

Claud stared at him as if Mitch had crawled out from under a rock, but he didn't say anything.

"I was pulling for you three as the killers because I could spare all of you without too much trouble. But I couldn't make it work." Mitch glared down at Carlo. "Carlo was stupid enough to slash my tires—" Carlo growled and Mitch braced himself for another punch "—but he wasn't smart enough or rich enough or connected enough to get me evicted from my office." Carlo stayed put, and Mitch turned to Claud. "Claud could get me evicted, but he wouldn't threaten my clients with physical danger." Mitch then faced the apoplectic little man behind the desk. "And Gio would threaten his own mother, but he wouldn't bother with shooting my car. I liked the idea that the three of you were in this together, but Mae said no, and eventually even I couldn't see any of you trusting the others with cab fare, let alone a murder plot."

"I don't get this, and I don't care," Gio said. "I want—"

"Then Mae was arrested and somebody killed my credit. And right there at the ATM, the solution hit me. And then fifteen seconds later, Carlo hit me." Suddenly overcome by disappointment, Mitch stared at Carlo. "You will never know how much I wanted you to be the bad guy in this. Ohio has the death penalty, you know."

"Mr. Peatwick, we're really uninterested in your credit rating," Claud said. "We want—"

"Then why did you kill it, Claud? I should be grateful because that's what made me finally catch on. I mean, two nights ago, somebody tries to shoot us, and that doesn't work, so somebody gets Mae arrested for murder, and that doesn't work, so then this guy escalates the battle and goes after my credit card?" Mitch shook his head. "I know your Dun and Brad-street is more important to you than your prostate, but even you must have figured out that losing my credit card would run a poor second to getting shot. That's when I knew I was dealing with more than one loon."

"Do you realize to whom you are speaking?" Claud asked him coldly.

"Yeah." Mitch stared him down, just as coldly. "I'm talking to the guy who ruined my credit rating. That would be you, and that's illegal. Financial harassment. I discussed this with my attorney when you had me evicted, and he says it should be an interesting lawsuit."

Claud dismissed him with a wave of his hand. "No attorney would touch a lawsuit like that."

"Mine would. He likes Bolivian tin mines and redheaded radicals. He lives for risk."

"Some ambulance chaser." Claud chuckled derisively. It sounded like a death rattle. "Some nobody."

"Nick Jamieson." Mitch watched the smile fade from Claud's face. "Yeah, he's good, isn't he? Well, look on the bright side, he's defending Mabel, too."

"How do you know Nick Jamieson?" Claud demanded.

"I'm his stockbroker." Mitch watched Claud blink as he absorbed the information and then Mitch turned to Gio. "Then there's you. Threatening my clients, harassing my landlord, making nasty phone calls. You ought to be ashamed. Especially since the cops would love to get something on you. You really screwed up this time, Gio.

"And then there's my personal favorite, the bottom feeder in your gene pool." He turned to glare at Carlo. "You owe me twelve new tires, new seats, all new windshields and lights, and a hell of a lot of bodywork. I can't believe you beat up my car like that."

Gio pounded on his desk. "Will you forget that damn car? I don't care about the car. I will pay for the car, and this lawyer, and anything else. Just tell me, where the hell is Mae Belle?"

"I don't know, Gio." Mitch stood up straight again. "My guess is, she's gone to see the murderer. I'm a little concerned about that. And that's why I'm leaving now."

Carlo blocked his way. "You're not going anywhere."

Mitch faced him. "I will go around you, over you, or through you, whatever it takes. But I am going to Mae."

And then he walked toward Carlo and the door.

Mae let herself in the front door of the town house at the same time that Stormy came down the stairs carrying a suitcase.

They both stopped, surprised.

"I was just going to call you." Mae eyed the suitcase. "Going somewhere?"

"South America. I just came by for my passport." Stormy put the suitcase down, frowning as if she'd had a sudden thought. "I thought you'd been arrested."

"Now, why would you think that?" Mae tossed her purse on the table.

Stormy blinked. "I heard it on the radio."

"No, you didn't. We've had the radio on all morning. No escaped socialites." Mae sat on the

edge of the table and looked at her sadly. "You framed me, didn't you, Stormy?"

Stormy bit her lip. "It wouldn't have stuck. Your uncles would have gotten every lawyer in Riverbend."

"Why did you do it?"

Stormy shrugged. "You were the one who started the murder rumor. I figured it made sense that you'd be guilty."

"No. I mean why did you kill Armand?"

Stormy opened her eyes wide. "I didn't."

Mae shook her head. "You're good, sweetheart, but that wide-eyed bit went out with Brigid."

"Who's Brigid?" Stormy asked with genuine confusion this time.

"You killed him because you loved him, didn't you?" Mae tried to keep the sympathy out of her voice. After all, this woman was a killer.

Just not a cold-blooded one.

Stormy snorted. "Why would I love him? He was a mean old man. And I'd have been stupid to kill him. He'd already given me all the money I was going to get. I wasn't in his will. I—"

"You loved him, and he was going to leave you. You tried to keep him by getting pregnant. That's why you poked holes in all of his condoms." She looked at Stormy sadly. "That wouldn't have worked, you know. He never gave a damn about kids. Not about Ronnie and not about me."

"If somebody put a hole in a condom, it was Armand." Stormy stuck her chin out. "He wanted me to stay with him after he got married. Maybe he thought if I got pregnant, I'd have to stay."

"He had a vasectomy in 1952." Mae watched Stormy's face go white.

"He couldn't have." She sounded as if she was out of breath. "He promised me—"

"He promised a lot of people a lot of things he had no intention of delivering." Mae saw Stormy lift her chin in defense, and she felt an ache of pity for her. "I'm sorry, Stormy. It's in his diary. Right after June told him she was pregnant, he had it done. He was never going to give you a baby."

"Then why did we always use condoms?" Stormy flared. "If—"

"To convince you he might give you a baby someday. He lied to you, Stormy. He lied to you to keep you, and then he dumped you for Barbara's money." Mae watched the younger woman totter to a chair. "He told you Monday night that he was married, didn't he? Is that when he told you it was all over?"

"No." Stormy straightened her shoulders. "No. I read it in his diary. It was just like always. He poured himself a big brandy and put it on the night table, and then he took a shower, and I read his diary to find out what was going on."

"You read his private journal?"

"Not all the time," Stormy said defensively. "Just when I wanted to know what was going on. Armand didn't tell me much. And I read in it that he'd married her. I couldn't believe it. It was awful. And I knew if I said anything, he'd leave." She sniffed. "Armand didn't like it when I asked him stuff."

Mae sank into the nearest chair. "You were with him seven years, and he wouldn't let you ask him stuff?"

Stormy nodded. "After a while, it got on my nerves, you know? And Armand said I was high-strung and got his doctor to prescribe some pills for me. And he was right. After I took a pill, I really wasn't interested in asking him stuff or having things my way."

Mae closed her eyes. He'd kept her stoned on tranquilizers. "Good old Armand, always looking out for other people."

"So I decided that I'd put one of my pills in his brandy so he'd stay calm and talk to me," Stormy said matter-of-factly. "I put one on the night table and smacked it with my high heel, and then I brushed the pieces into his brandy, but it didn't look like very much, so I smacked another one. And then I thought about him leaving me, and I smacked another one, and then I sort of lost count."

"You laced his brandy with tranquilizers?" Mae swallowed.

Stormy nodded. "And when he came out of the shower, he drank it, and then I told him I knew he was married, and that he was going to have to divorce her. And he told me not to be stupid, that he was never going to leave me. He was just going to be married to her and keep me on the side. It was like Medea."

"Medea?" Mae said, startled. "Medea who?"

"You know, Medea." Stormy frowned at her. "The Greek woman who was married to Jason. Armand and I saw Diana Rigg play her in New York two years ago. It was really something."

"How does Medea—"

"Jason dumped her for another woman, and then told her that he was doing it for her and the kids." Stormy laughed, a short, lonely sound in the stillness of the room. "Armand said he was doing it for us, for him and me."

Mae sighed. "He was doing it for him. He was broke and wanted her money."

Stormy waved away the idea. "Armand wasn't broke. Armand was rich."

"Armand was tapped out, stone broke," Mae said firmly. "It's all gone. The house, the furniture, the car...he sold everything and gave it to you and me, and then married Barbara for a new start on a fortune."

"That's why he married her?" Stormy's voice cracked with stunned disbelief. "That's why?"

"That's why." Mae hesitated. "I'm really sorry, Stormy. You deserved better."

After a moment, Stormy nodded. "Yeah. I did."

They sat silent for a moment, and then Mae asked, "How did he die?"

Stormy swallowed back the tears that were brightening her eyes. "I told him I had the diary. I told him he couldn't have it back unless he divorced her. And he got really mad and yelled at me and drank all the brandy at once, and then pretty soon he got really sleepy, and I thought he was just going to sleep, so I lay down next to him and..." She stopped, her lower lip quivering.

"And he fell asleep and died." Mae closed her eyes. "It must have been a shock when he stopped breathing."

"Yeah." Stormy nodded mournfully. "That's when I called Claud. And then I cried." She sniffed. "I really did love him."

"I know." Mae spared a thought for the poetic justice of Armand's death and then jerked her head at Stormy's suitcase. "You still leaving?"

Stormy sniffed once more and stood up. "Yeah. My flight's in an hour, and I got a ride coming." She smiled woefully at Mae. "Are you going to try and stop me?"

"No." The truth was, Stormy had about as much chance of escaping as she did of flying without the plane. She might get away for a week or a month, but they'd find her sooner or later. Stormy was never going to be able to take care of herself.

Stormy watched her, her uncertainty palpable. "I didn't kill him on purpose, you know."

"I know." Mae stood up to face her. "Look, I'm not going to be judge and jury here, and I'm sure not going to call the police. They'd just come and arrest me."

Stormy was still wary. "So I can just leave?"

"Yes."

"Okay." The buzzer rang, and Stormy picked up her suitcase and her purse. "That's my ride. I gotta go." She hesitated. "I always liked you, you know?"

"Thank you."

"The only reason I pinned it on you was that I knew you'd get off."

Mae fought down the urge to be caustic. "I appreciate that."

The buzzer rang again.

"Well, good luck," Stormy said.

"Good luck," Mae echoed sadly.

Stormy waved at her halfheartedly and opened the door.

"Hello, Stormy." Mitch looked over her shoulder at Mae. "We were just looking for Mabel, and there she is. Could we talk to you for a minute?'' He took Stormy's arm and walked her back into the room, closely followed by Claud, Gio and Carlo.

Stormy went with him, dropping her suitcase by the door.

"What is this, a parade?" Mae scowled at them, annoyed at the interference. Then she saw the bloody bruise on Mitch's forehead. "What happened to you?"

Mitch let go of Stormy and went to her. "Your entire lunatic family kidnapped me and refused to let me go, so I brought them along."

"Oh, Mitch, I'm sorry." Mae touched his temple lightly.

He closed her hand in his. "It's okay."

Mae squeezed his hand and then dropped it to return to her current problem. She had to get Stormy out of there. "Look, Stormy has to leave—"

"No, she doesn't," Mi

tch said.

"Yes, she does," Stormy said, and Mae turned to her and looked straight down the barrel of the small gun Stormy was holding on her. "I've got nothing against Mae, but I know she's the only one you all care about. So if anybody tries anything, I'll have to shoot her."

Mitch met Mae's eyes. "You know, nothing has gone the way I planned it today," he said.

No matter how he looked at it, things were bad. He was trapped with at least two homicidal maniacs, one of whom had a gun pointed at the head of the woman he loved. If he could only convince Stormy to shoot Carlo, life would be perfect, but that was a long shot.

The short shot was to Mae's head.

Think fast. "You know, Stormy, we can get you a good lawyer. We had one for Mae, but he's adaptable. We'll just white out her name on all the legal stuff he's drawn up for her and write yours in."

"If you hurt Mae, I'll kill you," Carlo said to Stormy.

Mitch rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Shoot him, will you? I, for one, will swear it was self-defense."

"Shut up, all of you." Stormy's eyes went to stare at Carlo warily, and Mitch immediately took two steps to the right so that he was standing between Mae and the gun.

"What are you doing?" Mae poked at his back, trying to see around him.

Mitch put his hand behind him to keep her in place. "Listen, if I wasn't almost positive that she probably wouldn't shoot, I wouldn't be doing this."

"I thought you had needs." Mae sounded a little breathless.

"I did. I do." Mitch took a deep breath himself as he watched Stormy and her wobbly gun hand. "It's just that the top of my list has changed."

"Oh."

Mitch felt her rest her head between his shoulder blades for a minute. "Are you all right?"

"Yes, I will," Mae said.

"Will what?"

"Yes, I will marry you." He felt her arms go around his waist from behind. "I will definitely marry you."

"Mae!" Carlo howled, and Stormy moved the gun to him.

Mitch tried to disentangle her arms from around him so he could move them both out of gun range if he had to. "Could we discuss this later?"

"Sure." She held him tighter. "I just wanted to go on record in case one of us gets shot and dies."




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