Brother and Sister
from Death Rules the Night by Rosemary and Larry Mild
Cora drove her bright green Mercedes SL Class convertible up to the Annapolis Waterfront Hotel entrance and turned the car over to a young, good-looking valet parker, who tried unsuccessfully to flirt with her. Inside the lobby, she ignored the reception desk and headed straight for the elevator. Dressed in a navy business suit, she made her way directly to room 233. She knocked rapidly four times and waited.
“Who’s there?” a deep male voice answered.
Muddy opened the door and blinked twice. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“That’s no way to greet your sister. Aren’t you going to invite me in?”
“Sister schmister. What the hell are you up to? You’re not one to make social calls, especially not to me. Out with it, woman. You must want something from me.”
“Of course not, dear brother. It’s just that I hadn’t heard from you in several days, and I wanted to thank you for handling the movers at the old house. It sure made our lives a lot easier on moving day. At first, I wondered why you volunteered, but then I realized that you were just being nice.”
“Meaning you thought I was acting out of character?” he asked. His sarcastic tone was not missed.
“Don’t get me wrong, Muddy. Motive aside, you were appreciated. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to come in and sit down.”
“Of course, my manners seem to be malfunctioning today.” His hand swept through a healthy arc, showing her the way in.
Cora took a seat in front of the wide glass sliding doors. The expanse revealed a view of the Annapolis City Dock and its famous Ego Alley, a tiny harbor inlet where boat owners paraded their floating prides and joys during the summer season. Muddy sat down on the bed opposite her and tried to analyze her real reason for coming.
“Yeah, I was just being nice.” He sounded as though even he wasn’t convinced of his own generosity. Her gratitude didn’t sound right to him. She hasn’t any idea that I really needed time in the empty house to seal off the secret room from the new owners.
“Muddy, I know you were opposed to Rae selling the house, but Daddy left it to her, and she should be free to do with it as she pleases. I believe she sold it for money to support her writing career.”
“Rae should’ve asked each of us whether we wanted to buy it beforehand,” he complained. “She never asked me. That’s why I’m so pissed at her.” The old buzzard could have left something for his only son. The house would have been nice—even a partnership, so I could have blocked any sale.
“I didn’t know you wanted to buy the house,” said Cora. “Were you able to save that much dough serving in the Merchant Marines all this time?” The Merchant Marines pays well, but not that well, she thought.
“No, but one of you sisters might have wanted to keep it—maybe turn it into a bed and breakfast or something.” He admitted to himself, No way I could have saved that much, even if I’d behaved and avoided spending the lion’s share on whisky, waste, and whores.
“I have no interest in that sort of thing,” said Cora, “and Gloria certainly couldn’t handle a project like that. No, Rae did the right thing in selling it. There are far too many rooms to clean and take care of without maintaining an expensive household staff.”
“But our house has been in the family since colonial times,” Muddy protested, “and I don’t want to see strangers living in it.” Ordinarily, I wouldn’t give a crap.
“I didn’t know you felt that way,” she said. “You’ve never taken any interest in the family history before.” The sonofabitch is lying. What’s his motive?
“There’re a lot of things you don’t know about me,” declared Muddy.
“I’m sure there are, but one thing is nagging at me.”
“Why are you so suddenly interested in Daddy’s book?”
“Who says I am?”
“It’s kind of obvious. I hear you’ve been following Dan Sherman, that bookseller, all over the place ever since he borrowed Daddy’s manuscript from Rae.”
“Damn it. You’ve been talking to that Sherman guy, haven’t you?”
“Maybe,” she admitted. “But why are you following him around otherwise?”
“That’s my business—and you’d better stay out of it if you know what’s good for you.” He hadn’t meant to voice an ugly threat; it just spilled out.
“What are you trying to hide, little brother?” Now I’ve got him, she thought.
“That also is my business, not yours.” The bitch is getting too close.
“I’ll bet dollars to donuts it has something to do with the house. Doesn’t it, Muddy dear?”
“You’re all wrong, Cora. You couldn’t be more wrong.” Too damn close.
“Ah! Perhaps you protest way too much, little brother.”
“Now you’re getting much too obnoxious, I think you ought to leave.”
“Why, Muddy? Am I getting too close to the truth?”
“You wouldn’t know the truth if you stepped in it. Now get the hell out of here before I throw you out.”
Cora stood and walked toward the door. As she passed him, he reached out and pinched her hard on the rump. It was his way of curbing his frustration—a way of having the last word. She spun around and slapped him—a stinging blow across the face in one swinging action. Stunned for only a few seconds, he returned an even stronger slap. She ran out the door in tears, the left side of her face wearing a red mark half the size of his hand. It smarted now, but later, it would turn sore, black and blue. She had failed to get Muddy to admit to anything, but she thought she knew what he might be hiding.