Chapter 12: Façade
He watched her run off, shaking his head. For a heavy girl, she could move pretty fast.
But there was a mystery here.
She could be faking it all. If she had memorized the table of elements, and knew all about coins, she could give the right answers.
He just couldn’t believe Deena was that devious.
But if I’m going to school, I still have unfinished business.
He pulled out his cell phone, once he was back in the Chevy. The number he dialed had a 310 area code.
It rang several times. He waited. She didn’t get up this early.
“Hi, Aunt Katy.”
“Luke! It’s good to hear from you. Got any business for me?”
“It’s Luther Jennings.”
“Right. I won’t forget. I’m just fuzzy this morning.” She was very apologetic. Using his real name on the cell phone was a bad slip. He just hoped no one was listening in.
“What can I do for you, Luther?”
He shook aside his annoyance. “Aunt Katy, I need you to make a phone call for me.” She wasn’t his aunt, either, but no one in Crescent City needed to know that.
He explained the drug accusation, and the locker search. “The school called your business answering machine to notify you about what had happened.”
“Katy Ferril Custom Metal Artwork,” she recited, just as she had when she recorded the announcement on the machine for him. “I just love that. How is my business doing?”
He grinned. Katy was an artist in Malibu—an artist in dyed hair and trimmed fingernails. Unfortunately, that job didn’t pay as much as the fictitious metalwork artist of Crescent City made.
“Well, several thousand-dollar commissions here and there—we’re doing all right.”
She sighed. “Boy, I could use a ‘commission’ right now. The rent’s past due.”
“Then make this call. You’re my loving aunt. I stay at home all the time and I never get into trouble. You are upset and angry that anyone dared accuse me of drug use. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Be creative. I basically want the school to know that I’m being looked after by a concerned guardian.”
“Do I go into your history any?”
“Not unless you have too. Make sure you stick to the script I gave you. We can’t have any garbled details.”
“No problem. I was your dad’s secretary for ten years and I never fumbled a call.”
He knew. Dad made the mistakes on his own.
“Now the good part. How much do I make for this call?”
Luther frowned. “Er, I’m a little short of immediate cash. How long can you wait?” Once that check cleared at his bank, he could pay her, but not before then.
“The landlord is knocking on the door every day, and hassling me when I come home from work. I could really use fifteen hundred dollars today.”
He thought about it. There was one way, but it was distasteful.
“Katy, I could send you five coins by overnight delivery. You wouldn’t get the best price for them at a local coin shop, but it would certainly be more than fifteen hundred. Closer to four grand.”
“That would be wonderful! You’d be a lifesaver.”
“It’s dangerous. If you can possibly get an extension from your landlord, the gold dealer I use does everything by the mail and guarantees totally anonymity. You mail him the coins and he sends you a check by registered mail. Nothing goes into a database. I’ll include his address when I mail them.”
“Okay, but this is the L.A. area. There are lots of places to transact business off the books. I’ll find a good coin shop. Just send me the gold.”
He gave her the school phone number and the names to contact. She even remembered Principal Miles, from that meeting at the beginning of the school year when she had come up to Crescent City to be his visible guardian when he enrolled. That had been a very profitable trip for her.
When he flipped the phone closed, he realized the time. He was going to be late to school, especially since he had to swing by the post office on the way.
Stella Fender was waiting at her locker.
“Deena.” Her eyes were wide. She whispered, “Is it true you’re pregnant?”
Deena grinned. This one she was prepared for.
“Nope.” She patted her tummy. “Pure fat. You must have heard the rumors. Did you hear the one that says I died from a drug overdose?”
Luther walked into photography class wearing a large nametag. It bold letters is said “NOT A DRUG DEALER”.
Carlos Davis, the instructor, said, “Luther, is that really necessary?”
Luther looked around at the others in the class. “Yes, sir. I’m afraid it is. And since the school started the rumors in the first place, I’d ask your indulgence in letting me stomp them out.”
Carlos shrugged and called the class to attention.
Luther was pleased at the way the day was going. Principal Miles smiled and nodded at him when he walked into school late. She must have just gotten off the phone with Aunt Katy with an earful of how moral and upstanding he was. Maybe he could breeze through this little tempest after all.
Hopefully, if he could just make the rumors sound sufficiently ridiculous, they would go away.
Now if I can just figure out Deena Brooke.
She checked the coins she had in her purse, idly separating the pennies from the others. Playing with coins. That was a good thing to do in economics class wasn’t it?
Too late to eat breakfast at home, she had demanded some cash from Mom to get a snack in the cafeteria, and amazingly enough, she had gotten it.
I’m still starving. It had to be stress. Her diet failures were always the nibblies, not full-bore binges. And that’s what her stomach was crying out for—a twenty-course super-deluxe all-you-can-eat binge.
She looked at one of the pennies. Dirty copper. Just like all the rest. She felt it in her hand. 29/63 and 29/65 and something else.
Eight? Oh yes. Oxygen. It’s corroded.
The chair she sat in was wooden, with metal fixtures. She scraped the penny against a large screw head. A trace of shiny zinc showed in the scratch.
She put her pennies away. No need to binge on zinc. The coin under her watch was enough.
Hoard my pennies. I wonder what Luther hoards? That gold coin was something. Is he rich?
Bryony followed Luther down the hallway pondering her own questions about him.
Are the things people are saying about him true? She shivered. Could he be a criminal in hiding?
He had come from L.A., so he said. But he also knew so much about Las Vegas. She tried to think back about all the things that he mentioned Saturday. He had talked about the place as if he knew it well. But he was hiding something too.
He has his own car, an expensive classic car. He never seems to need money. What does his family do?
Bryony had been to all the school social events, and at the football games, the basketball games, the town fair, and all the rest, Luther was always there alone.
What is he hiding?
Deena walked into her view, joining the flow of people in the hallway. Bryony moved over to her side.
“Hi, Deena.” She whispered, “Have you heard the rumors? Oh, you hurt your hand. Is it bad?”
Deena shook her head, flexing her fingers through the bandage, “Not bad. But which rumors? There are so many.”
Luther went on into the physics class doorway. She stopped and Deena faced her.
Bryony struggled to put what she was thinking into words. Deena’s face was a bit of a scowl, so that didn’t help.
“Do you think...that Luther is hiding a criminal past?”
Deena laughed. “I don’t know.” Then she appeared to give it some thought. “How should I know? You think just because they searched his locker, that makes him a criminal?”
Bryony shook her head. “No. They searched yours, and I half expected them to search mine, too. I figured it was your Mom who raised the stink, don’t you? Because of the Saturday trip.
“It’s just that the more I think about it, the more I realize how much I don’t know about him—and I know everybody! Maybe there is more to him than he lets on. He’s not timid, like you are. He’s just really quiet.”
Deena nodded. “Then why ask me?”
Bryony looked at her, then away. “Well, he was talking to you yesterday, after class. And you two got on so well on the trip. I thought maybe....”
“No.” Deena was firm. “We just talked. It was science stuff. Element numbers and things.” She let out a sad little sigh. “I know nothing about him either.”
Bryony smiled. “I don’t know if he’s a criminal, but I’d like to find out. He gives me the shivers. I’ll get him to ask me out!”
She gave Deena’s hand a squeeze and dashed on ahead into class.
I wish I were Bryony. What would it be like to be confident—so confident that everyone will like you?
Deena forced herself to head for physics class. Bryony’s declaration had taken every bit of energy out of her step.
Bryony was after Luther. That meant no one else, certainly not fat Deena, had any chance with him.
Not that I had any chance anyway. I’m no more than a puzzle to him.
And the early morning coaching session on how to cope with the rumors was just the action of a nice guy. It hadn’t been anything more than that.
As she found a seat in the back of the room, watching Bryony chatting enthusiastically with Luther, she felt an ache in her heart. It couldn’t ever be more than that.