Chapter 5 The Truth Comes Out
Barty's Cafe was a small place, six tables at most. A wooden bar stretched from the kitchen to the opposite wall with stools to match. The decor was old fashioned, mainly black and white photographs of famous athletes, presidents, and actors. The atmosphere was cozy, bright, and a little too happy for Tom's taste.
He took a seat farthest away from the door and slightly out of the line of sight. It wasn't that he was anxious, it was a simple matter of habit. Whenever he was expecting someone, whether it be a suspect or a witness, he made sure he could see them first.
For a few moments Tom reflected on his meeting with Miss Alathea Winters. He had not been particularly impressed. She was undoubtedly the suspicious, untrusting type, though he found it odd that she was willing to alone in the dark. Perhaps she was attracted to risks.
Risks indeed. He thought with some disgust of the tramp he hired to snatch her purse. Though Tom had already paid him, the fellow had the audacity to follow him and threaten to tell her the whole story if he didn’t pay a little more. It was amazing a blackmailer like that was out on the streets.
It still bothered him why Stanley was interested in Alathea. What was so attractive about her story that he would reopen a closed case outside of his division and cross ethical boundaries to obtain it? And why ask him? Why couldn’t Stanley have done it himself? He may not have the same charm, but that never stopped him from finding answers before.
"Hey, buddy. I'm Blake. What can I do for you?" A double-chinned waiter came up beside him, breaking his train of thoughts.
"I'm waiting for someone." Tom stated.
"Business or date?"
"Ah." Blake jiggled his eyebrows. "Is she hot?"
"Can't exactly expect her to be with a name like Winters."
"Ooh, a cold beauty eh? When she comes, I'll bring you both a nice, hot, cup of coffee." He laughed as he walked away.
Tom watched him leave, the name floating in his head in the form of a tattoo on the wrist of a murdered woman. It could be the same man. He made a mental note to speak with him after he took care of business.
He studied the other customers as he waited. The two people closest to him were sitting so close together they hardly counted as two. Bright, golden rings glinted on their fingers, revealing their current married state. The woman was wearing a cheap necklace with French lingo and a blue dress that was cut high over her knees, and her black hair was frizzy and not well maintained. The man was wearing a blue turtleneck that matched the woman's dress, was as tan as leather, and had his hair in a French Crop. From all outward appearances, it would appear that this lovely couple had just honeymooned in France. However, after listening to bits and pieces of their conversation, Tom knew they actually went to Florida and ordered the French things online. They both expressed repeatedly their desire to go to Paris.
Across from him were two brothers who were trying to play-up the 'twin' scenario. Both wore similar clothing and had matching haircuts. However, one was starting to get flecks of gray in his hair while the other did not. The hands of the younger were also a bit smoother, and he kept using the word 'like' a little too often.
Sitting at the bar was a balding, stout man with a pudgy face that resembled that of a pig. From his hunched position, his shifty eyes, and his twitching fingers that constantly straightened his silverware and coffee mug, Tom figured he was an anxious hermit with obsessive compulsive disorder.
He was just about to check his watch when Alathea nervously entered the cafe. Tom stood to welcome her, when he froze in sudden astonishment. It had been dark when he first saw her, obscuring some of her physical characteristics and leading him to mistakenly believe she looked no different from any other young woman. Now, in the light flooded cafe, it occurred to him she was one of the palest, most sickly albinos he had ever seen. Her face was gaunt, and almost as white as a corpse, marble-like. Her hair, which was currently pulled back in a ponytail, reminded him of a thin sheet of ice. Her bright, piercing gray eyes sent a cold shiver down his spine, a reaction he rarely had.
For a brief moment, he understand what Stanley meant about her beauty. It was unique, strange, and almost alien. He wasn’t even sure he could call her an albino, for this seemed unnatural. He couldn’t put his finger on what it was...but…it would be easy to believe he was talking to a phantom.
Tom pushed the thought away. Focus. He was doing a job, and he wasn’t about to become caught up in a woman’s appearance.
She forced a smile when she caught sight of him. As she briskly approached him, she stumbled over her own feet, caught herself on the bar, and nearly knocked over the hermit's coffee.
"Sorry." She mumbled as she straightened up. The hermit eyed her suspiciously and scooted away.
Tom returned her smile as he pulled out a chair for her. "You all right?"
"Just fine, thank you."
For a moment, her smile faltered into a grimace as she studied him, as if he was wearing something distasteful. Tom thought he looked presentable. He was wearing his leather coat, blue jeans, and button-up shirt. He raised his eyebrows questionably, but her smile returned as she took her seat. "Well...hi.”
“I’ve not been on a date since I was sixteen.”
“I haven’t been asked by anyone.”
“I’m not completely surprised. I get the sense you would prefer to avoid people if you could.”
She tilted her head. “It seems like I’m open book.”
“There are always little things and actions that betrays a person’s character. For example, your posture is closed and you’re leaning back, which tells me you are clearly uncomfortable and wish you could be somewhere else.” She immediately leaned forward and uncrossed her arms. “Much better.”
“You, on the other hand,” she said, “look completely relaxed. But you’re not, are you.” Tom cocked an eyebrow questioningly as she continued. “I think there is something bothering you.”
“You’re right.” He smiled jokingly. “It’s my lack of charm. I’m usually pretty easy with the ladies.”
She snickered, but shook her head. “That’s not it…” She stopped and shifted uncomfortably. “What else is betraying my character?”
“You walking alone in the dark, though you’re perfectly capable of driving. You are suspicious, but you are not afraid of the risk. You like trouble, I think.”
“And...are you trouble?”
“I could be.” He winked.
She shook her head again. “You are wrong about that. I don’t like trouble, but I seem to have a habit of finding it.” He chuckled, but she continued in a serious tone. “I’m not perfectly capable of driving as you suppose. I have my reasons, and I’m not too afraid to walk in the dark.”
“What are your reasons?”
Before she could respond, Blake came walking back with a big, toothy grin."You two ready for something hot to drink?” His eyes grew wide as he stared at Alathea. "Wow! You know how to pick 'em. She's a cool beauty."
Tom hid a smile as Alathea stared at Blake as if he was crazy. “That’s a new one.”
"I'm full of new ones, baby."
Ignoring the flirtatious humor, she looked at Tom. "You want to order first?"
"Please." He gestured towards her.
"Coffee, cream, sugar, no cursing."
"Cursing?" Blake raised his eyebrows. "What's cursing? Is that a spice?"
"No, it means no using curse words around my coffee." Thinking she was joking, Tom chuckled again. "I'm quite serious." She stated.
"Oh, no worries. I won't say anything bad around your drink." Blake seemed confused at the request, but he was undoubtedly willing to do whatever she said. He looked at Tom. "And you?"
"Coffee, black, curse all you want." Alathea rolled her gray eyes.
"I will be right back."
"So,” Tom looked at her pointedly, “What are your reasons?”
She looked toward the floor as she answered. “I’m easily distracted.”
“That’s a good reason. But...it may not be entirely true.”
“How do you know?”
“You speak as if you think you have a disability.” He shrugged. “I don’t know you well enough, but I doubt you are disabled. You seem perfectly functional to me.” He chuckled at her dumbfounded expression. “I’ll find out for sure. Let me interview you. Have you always lived here in Riverton?"
She continued to gape at him for a few moments before she managed to find her voice. “I originally lived in Tuscan, born and raised there."
Tuscan, there was an opening. "Quite the move. How long ago did you come here?"
"Uh, a little more than a year. What about you?"
“That was a lie.” She slapped her hand over her mouth.
Tom raised his eyebrows. “Lie?”
“Uh...never mind. Native?”
She cringed, but said, “Tell me more about this place. I don’t think I’ve seen everything.”
“If you’ve only been here a year, you haven’t.” He proceeded to describe some of his favorite places, including River’s End Park, the best place to meet interesting people and find the wildest parties during the summer. However, in the back of his mind he kept tabs on how much he spoke and how he would approach the topic of Tuscan. It had to seem natural and not forced, otherwise it would be obvious that he was digging up information.
As he continued to speak, Alathea’s original discomfort returned in force. She clenched and loosened her right hand repeatedly, and her eyes grew narrowed. Now where was he going wrong? He better get her talking.
“What about you?” he asked. “Tell me about Tuscan.”
She took in a deep, surprisingly shaky breath. “There is not much to tell. It’s a small town, though fairly wide in parameters. We have our own desert, and that’s the only tourist attraction.”
“Do you miss it at all?”
“There are things I miss.”
“My parents, for one. They couldn’t make the move with me.”
“Why did you move?”
She looked over his shoulder as she answered. “I had my reasons.”
“Did something happen?” He leaned forward and touched her hand. She jerked back like she was stung. “Hey, it’s okay.” He almost laughed. “I don’t bite.”
She stared at him, unreadable expressions passing through her face. “I can’t do it.” She breathed. “I’m sorry, Sarah.”
“I beg your pardon.”
She crossed her arms and asked, “Why are we here, Mr. Wayword?”
He raised his eyebrows. “I thought that was obvious.”
“What you want me to think is obvious, but it’s not the truth. You are not attracted to me at all. It’s just business. You lied when you said you were unemployed.”
“Are you currently working for someone?”
“I have no idea what you mean.”
“Another lie. You are currently employed, and it’s something you don’t want me to know. You are also not ‘native’, as you put it. You were born and raised somewhere else.”
“I don’t know what gave you that idea.” How in the world did she know that?
“It was just another lie. Why did you ask me out? What business do you have with me? What does it have to do with your employer?”
“What are you talking about?”
Her voice hardened. “You know exactly what I’m talking about.”
For a few moments they glared at each other, neither saying a word. Tom was not sure how to respond.
Finally, she said, “That fellow who took my purse, did you hire him to do that?” Again, Tom was speechless. She glanced over his shoulder, and nodded to herself. “You did. I think that’s a really deceitful and cheap…”
“Definitely not cheap.” Tom cut her off.
Her eyes grew wide. “Are you admitting I’m right?”
“You seem pretty sure of yourself.”
“I am, but nobody ever admits I’m right. They usually storm off and I never hear from them again.”
Tom cocked his head. “You usually do this to your dates?”
“I do this to everyone who makes me nervous. Seriously, am I right in thinking you were hired to meet me?” She cringed. “Ugh, that sounds crazy.”
“Conspiracy.” Tom smirked.
“Is it true?” She lean toward him eagerly, her eyes growing wider by the minute. She was reminding him of a hound dog tracking a scent.
He remembered what it felt like to interrogate his suspects, and the excitement of entering their head and pulling the facts from their mouth. It was usually a simple trick of making them think you knew more than they really did. Though he hated to admit it, he was impressed by Alathea’s apparent skill in this area.
Stanley’s last instructions echoed in his head. Use whatever means necessary to keep her from finding out the truth. He had given Tom every indication that she would be easy to fool, the type of girl who just needed to have her heart strings pulled before she poured out her soul. Instead, she was a suspicious, straight-forward woman who knew a lie when she heard one.
Again, Tom doubted Stanley’s intentions. If he really wanted him to acquire Alathea’s account of the murder, he would’ve given more accurate information of her character. Instead, he mislead him. With this thought in mind, it became clear to Tom he needed to take a different approach.
He needed to give her the truth.
“You’re right.” He said simply.
Her jaw dropped to the floor. “Really?”
"Have you been served yet?" They both jumped in surprise as a strawberry-blonde waitress approached them.
"We were waiting for our drinks." Alathea said placidly.
"I'll get them for you right now. What did you order?"
"Coffee, cream, sugar, no cursing.”
The waitress frowned, but she turned towards Tom. "Black." He muttered before she could ask. Without another word, she turned away.
“I must know,” Tom turned back towards Alathea, “what gave me away?”
Her eyes shifted nervously. “I have my ways.”
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
“I’m not going to tell you.”
Before he could respond, the waitress came back with the coffee. "Sorry about the wait. Who took your order?"
"Blake." Tom answered curtly.
"Odd." She stood rooted in place, her eyebrows drawn together. "He shouldn't be on break..." she muttered. "Sorry." She snapped back. "Are you ready to order?"
"I lost my appetite.” Alathea muttered. “Just the coffee for me.”
"And you, sir?"
"Just the coffee."
"Let me know if you change your mind." She walked away.
Alathea added the cream, picked up her spoon and stirred the dark brown liquid. “Does it really matter how I figured it out? I know. Does that bother you at all?”
“Not as much as you not telling how. With my line of work, I have to be a good liar.”
She cocked an eyebrow. “Salesman, politician, or detective?”
They both answered her question in unison. “Detective.”
“Wait,” Alathea scowled, “you mean somebody hired you, a detective, to talk to me.”
“Apparently you’re the subject of somebody’s interest.”
“Oh yeah? Who?”
“Who do you suspect?”
She grimaced. “I have no idea.”
“Well, there are plenty of people who don’t like me, angry customers and such.”
“I’m a detective, not an assassin. Who has an interest in you?”
“Why are you asking me? You know who hired you.”
“I do, but I want to see how you figure it out.”
Her eyes narrowed. “You’re testing me.”
“I’m curious. Humor me.”
“I should say absolutely not, but…”
“You’ll try it.”
“Fine, but I think it would be someone I don’t know. I mean, if they hired you to gather some sort of information…”
“I am under the impression it’s someone you do know.”
She frowned thoughtfully. “I’m not sure…”
“Who would want to gather information about you, but not be known?”
“I have no idea.”
“Yes you do.”
“You’re being ridiculous. Can’t you just tell me who it is?” When he kept his mouth closed, she moaned. “Okay, let me think. There was one guy who was curious. He kept asking me questions, but I don’t think he would do something like this.”
“Tell me.” Tom urged. “How did you meet him?”
“He hired us to clean a hoarder’s house. Apparently the hoarder was a friend of his. Anyway, we started talking...he was being really friendly...but he kept making me uncomfortable.”
“I felt like he was digging for information, kind of like what you’re doing.”
“I can’t think of anything specific.”
“What was his name?”
“He was a detective too, actually. Stanley...I think his name was Stanley.”
“Sergeant Stanley O’Neal.” Tom stated. “That’s your interested party.”
Her gaze narrowed. “Why?” She asked harshly. “What is he wanting?”
“You can’t think anything specific in your conversations?” She shook her head. “But it was enough to make you uncomfortable.”
“There were other things too. He just seemed...untrustworthy.”
Without warning, Tom burst into laughter. “Him?” He said through his chortles. “Untrustworthy? I think you find everyone untrustworthy.”
“Perhaps I do. But what did he tell you?”
“You really cannot think of anything?” He watched her face, wanting for any indication of realization.
Her eyes grew wide. Tom was certain the memory was in the forefront of her mind. Smugly, he stated, “The case concerning the death of Dr. Morgan and the imprisonment of Andrew Evans.”
If it was possible for Alathea’s face to grow paler, it was at the mention of Andrew Evans. She slapped her hand over her mouth to stifle the sudden cry of shock that escaped her lips. Slowly, she lowered it and managed to whisper, “How does he know about that?”
“That, I don’t know.” Tom said. “He said he wanted your side of the story.”
“And why did he send you? He could’ve asked me himself. He should’ve told me..!”
“What would you have done if he had? Would you have given him what he wanted?” She looked away again and didn’t respond. “Listen,” he said soothingly. “I’ve known Stanley for a while. He’s a good man, and I know he wouldn’t do anything to cause you harm. Whatever happened in Tuscan, he could probably help.”
“Good man?” She said sarcastically. “If there is one thing I know, nobody is really good. We’ve all got problems. I don’t want his help, I don’t want anybody’s help. That chapter of my life is closed, and I’m not reopening.” She stood up and withdrew a five dollar bill from her purse.
“I got it. It’s a date after all.”
She shook her head. “I don’t count this as a date.” She raised to separate fingers as she made her point. “A date is when two people who like each other go out together to get to know each other.”
“Isn’t this what it is to you? I may not be attracted to you, as you figured. But you are to me, which is why you’re here.”
“You obviously think way too highly of yourself.”
“That is a lovely shade of red on you cheeks...first color I’ve seen on you yet.”
Her entire face darkened another shade as she slammed the money on the table. “Goodbye!”
Tom watched her as she walked away, a thoughtful frown on his face. He smirked slightly when she ran into a same hermit from earlier. The hermit stumbled, but managed to grab hold of her to keep his balance. She apologized profusely while she helped him straighten up. “What is wrong with you?” He yelled. Tom’s smirk disappeared and he stood, but without warning, the man burst into laughter and gently patted her cheek. “It’s okay.”
Despite the friendliness in his gesture, she flinched. “Sorry.” She said before she backed away and walked out. The man returned to his business, apparently unperturbed.
Tom shook his head. He failed that assignment, but he was pretty certain it was set up. He would have to speak to Stanley about this later.
With that thought in mind, he paid his fee and walked out towards his truck. As soon as he opened the door, all thoughts of Alathea or Stanley disappeared. Blake the waiter was sitting in the passenger seat, staring straight ahead with a blank look on his face.
“Hey, what are you doing?” Tom asked. Blake didn’t even seem to register he spoke. He continued to sit, unmoving.
Tom warily climbed in. “You okay there?” He touched his wrist. It was still warm, but no pulse. Without warning, Blake slumped to the side, his body flopping lifelessly. Food dripped out of his mouth.
He was definitely dead
Chapter 5 The Truth Comes Out