Novel Excerpt: That Summer in Franklin
THE FRANKLIN STANDARD
Friday July 22, 1955 ******* Page 1
FATAL ACCIDENT AT FRANKLIN HOTEL
Mr. Hugh Mourand, owner and operator of Franklin's prestigious Britannia Hotel, called police yesterday to investigate the death of Charlie Elliot, longtime kitchen employee of the establishment. Mr. Elliott was found crumpled at the bottom of the stairs in the hotel's kitchen. Mrs. Mourand, being the only one in the hotel at the time, said she heard nothing and found Elliot's body when she went into the kitchen to make tea, shortly after 3 p.m. It is thought that Mr. Elliot collapsed, possibly from a heart attack, and fell down the stairs, sustaining a fatal blow to his head.
Mr. Elliott, who emigrated from London in the 1920s, had worked at the hotel since it opened and had no known relatives. The incident is undergoing police investigation, and an autopsy will be performed.
THE FRANKLIN STANDARD
Monday July 25, 1955 ******** Page 8
Elliot, Charles, Thursday July 21, 1955 -
Suddenly, at the Britannia Hotel.
No funeral service. Internment Fairgrove Cemetery, Clark Road, Franklin.
Hannah watches the windshield wipers swish-swish back and forth, late afternoon November rain jet-streaming off the car as she attempts to hold her expressway speed below the posted limit. Sometime this morning, and no one could tell her when, Hannah's seventy-seven-year-old mother, Edith, was found collapsed and unconscious in her dressing gown on Franklin's rain-drenched east beach. Hannah, called from her tenth grade English class and flung into this disaster, made her way to the office feeling as though she were moving through thickened air. The secretary was, of course, more than sympathetic when Hannah explained why she would need a sub for the rest of Monday and Tuesday as well.
It takes a good hour and a half to drive from Toronto to Franklin. How could this have happened? Hannah wants a blow-by-blow description. What time did her mother leave the house this morning? How long did she wander about in the wind and drizzle? Why didn't someone on the street notice her? Who found her collapsed on the stone beach, her pink, quilted housecoat matted with sand and seaweed? "In some degree of shock and hypothermia"—that's what the policewoman had said in an almost breezy tone of voice, as if she were giving the weather report.
The more she tries to concentrate on her mother and the crisis at hand, the more her past reinvents itself—contradictions bridging the almost five-and-a-half decades of her life. Duty versus escape. Memory versus selective amnesia. Roots versus branches. For the past forty years, climbing as far up and out as she could, hoping never to return, and at the same time, desperately wanting to.
This stress, in turn, brings on a massive dose of guilt. She hasn't visited her mother enough and has developed avoidance as a life skill. Dutiful Christmas trips always, a few days whirling in with presents, arriving in darkness, leaving in darkness. Short, compartmentalized visits bounded by time and her teaching life. Summer holidays rarely, always a legitimate excuse: summer school and courses that kept her feet moving up the pay-scale ladder, travel related to the curriculum, renovations to her tidy nest. These last few years when she does visit, she has refused to admit anything is changing, especially those silent but pervasive ravages of time.
Now her mother—the master organizer and money manager, typing and filing until just before her seventieth birthday, her mother, the supreme sacrificer, who subsequently grayed and withered into retirement—has become unpredictable and confused, no longer able to cope.
Not that there haven't been warnings, telltale indicators Hannah refused to acknowledge: too much dried-up food in the fridge, too many newspapers and magazines piled under tables, chairs, the bed. That indefinable yet distinctive smell, pulling everything downward, like shabby slippers shuffling across some unseen line. The few neighbors Hannah has spoken to over the years kept tabs on things, kindly taking out garbage and shoveling walks. One neighbor, who had last year quietly asked about a number in case of emergency, gave Hannah's school phone number to the police.
And the last forty years? An unwieldy number, forty, with neither the stature of fifty nor the glamour of twenty-five. Forty years: four decades, two score, too many. And more importantly, what to show for it? Her mother asked this every time she visited, every Sunday when she phoned.
The hospital sign leaps out at her right off the expressway, not where it should be, where it used to be on the east side of town. She feels pulled into some surrealistic scenario—a sprawling new building, trees and landscaping impeccable, the Franklin Area Health Care Center information signs blaring across the immaculate black-paved parking lot, a wide wheelchair-accessible walkway, automatic front doors opening into a pristine foyer.
Into the hub of hospital busyness. Brightly lit halls lead off in three directions, an impressive reception area resplendent with oversized foliage plants and gleaming leather chairs, all with that unmistakable smell of antiseptic masking the edges of sickness and decay. Hannah inhales sharply and approaches the front desk. "I'm here to see Mrs. Norcroft, Edith Norcroft." The click-click of the computer by an ,unsmiling receptionist who impartially taps in the name, her long, polished nails identifying an unraveled life. Hannah feels each tap touching exposed bone. Edith with long golden hair, Longfellow, The Children's Hour. How inappropriately appropriate.
"You're a relative?"
"Yes, yes. I'm her daughter. I . . ."
"Two thirty-two, Clarence Ridley wing. Check in at the nursing station opposite the stairs."
Hannah has always had trouble with impartiality, usually translating it into accusation or, at the very least, suspicion. For a split second she considers hauling out her birth certificate to prove who she is, or giving reasons for why she wasn't already here, or explaining that what has happened isn't her fault. Instead, a numbness washes over her, and she nods to the receptionist, already preoccupied on the phone, and walks as if into a thick fog to the elevator where two orderlies are discussing last night's hockey game.
The second floor doors click behind her, presenting two halls, both smelling paint clean, both deserted. Clarence Ridley. Politician? Benefactor? The farmer who owned this land?
A middle-aged man and woman push hurriedly past her off the elevator. How long has she been standing here, rabbit-still, impaled by the indirect lighting? The signs jump out at her now, gold embossed lettering, CLARENCE RIDLEY WING, and in brackets discreetly below, Special Care Unit. Hannah feels her heart pound, her chest constrict. No, she says to herself, taking several deep breaths. No panic attacks here. She checks to make sure no one is watching, no one who might misconstrue her deep breathing, for whatever reason, and takes several more. The receptionist didn't say anything about "special care."
She remembers her mother visiting a neighbor who was in Special Care years ago, when the old hospital had just opened a spanking new wing, in 1951 or '52. Her mother, who hardly ever visited anyone, had made an exception with Mrs. Brant down the street, a garrulous old woman so unlike Hannah's mother, it always amazed Hannah that their friendship evolved. The connecting link was flowers. Mrs. Brant ended up in Special Care after she broke her hip. "The end of the line for her," Hannah's mother said. "It'll be the poor house if they don't scratch up some sympathetic relative."
Hannah forces herself not to run down the hallway, to walk deliberately and professionally as if patrolling the hall between classes.
Each of the three nurses behind the nursing-station counter scrutinizes a document. Two conferring, one solo. Hannah tries clearing her throat and, when that doesn't work, opens and closes her purse a few times, then, feeling more and more agitated, paces the length of the counter and back. Two nurses leave. The third answers the phone. No one makes eye contact with Hannah.
"I'm here to see my mother, Mrs. Norcroft."
The nurse on the phone nods and keeps talking. One of the first two returns, obviously in time to hear Norcroft. "Dear little Edith," she says cheerily. "She's doing so much better this morning."
Edith, Hannah thinks. Mother certainly won't like that. "I'm her daughter," she says again, feeling exposed, practically condemned.
"Yes, yes," the nurse says, as if Hannah is already labeled. "The poet. Your mother rambles a bit and we think she's had a T.I.A., but she'll be so glad to see you." She beckons Hannah to follow.
A T.I.A.? Hannah thinks. What the hell is a T.I.A.?
The nurse waves her into a semi-private with its cheery yellow walls and pseudo Monets looking down from above both shiny metal beds. This thin, slack face with hair in disarray can't be her mother's. The adjoining bed is empty.
"Sleeping again, Edith?" the nurse chirps, leaning over her. "Wake up, Edith dear. You have a visitor."
Hannah stands awkwardly at the foot of the bed. A stroke. Is a TIA a stroke?
"Better sit down," the nurse says, pulling a stiff metal-legged chair close to her mother's head. "She takes a while to wake up but she'll probably know you, being her daughter and all."
Hannah sits down and lowers her purse to the floor. Later she remembers the clunk of it, the sound of her own accelerated breathing, her mother's slow rasping in and out.
No response. Eyes still shut. Hannah looks up, but the nurse has already left. She glances over to the window to see a thin edge of sunlight slip through the clouds brightening the wall behind the beds, then back to the partially open washroom door, the added toilet-seat assist and the panic button cord-pull in full view. The closet door, however, is closed. Hannah jumps up to investigate. Two hooks, an upper and lower shelf. Where is her mother's pink, quilted dressing gown, her slippers? What about the house? Is it still wide open—a sitting duck for vandals, petty thieves? She should have gone there first. She intended to, but the hospital wasn't where it should be, where it used to be.
"Is that you, Hannah?"
Hannah wheels about and falls into the chair. "Mother, what happened? I'm so sorry. Are you in pain?"
Her mother's face lifts momentarily out of its gray slackness. "This is a fine kettle of fish," she says, in a voice almost her own. "I need a cigarette."
"No smoking in here, I'm afraid."
Her mother turns her head away. "You and that nurse," she quavers. One hand has mole-pushed its way outside the blanket, her nicotine-stained fingers clutching the satin edge. "Everyone telling me what I can't do, what I mustn't do."
Hannah stares at her mother's hand, gnarled with broken nails, several too long and curling inward. Her mother had such beautiful hands, nails always manicured and polished, tap-taping the hours on her Underwood typewriter. She gardened with two pairs of gloves, thin rubber ones inside a pair of flimsy white cloth ones. Hannah takes a deep breath and tries to think of something helpful or reassuring. All of this must be so humiliating.
"They mean well," her mother continues, sounding stronger, "telling me I'm too young to go into nursing, telling me there's a depression just around the corner. Well, I showed them, didn't I?" She turns back toward Hannah, her face fierce with concentration. "I showed every last one of them."
Hannah nods numbly—reaches out and places trembling fingers over her mother's gnarled fist.
"Same as when I met Harry. They all said he'd never come back, said I'd be sorry. Sorry is as sorry does. I wasn't sorry then, didn't have time to be sorry later." The face slackens again, baby-bird eyelids sliding down over clouded eyes.
"Mother?" No response.
The nurse looks in. "Gone again, is she? Doesn't usually last more than a few minutes at a time. Fresh coffee in the lounge. You look like you need it."
The coffee has that bitter, institutional aftertaste; the creamer the wretched sprinkling kind. Oprah intones on TV, her audience here a motley crew of wheelchair occupants, half of whom are asleep. The middle-aged couple standing over by the window is obviously in some state of crisis, their body movements like Morse code tapping out their trauma. The woman looks vaguely familiar, and Hannah, in no mood for old acquaintances, walks abruptly back into the hall, wanting a cappuccino, some Vivaldi, another chance at the last forty years.
Hannah drives along Main Street on the way to her mother's house, her sense of urgency overshadowed by dread of what she will find when she gets there. The street hasn't changed that much—probably too many empty storefronts, mall-mentality castoffs. Spindly trees have been interspersed with new heritage-looking streetlights. Cardinal's Ladies Wear is now a flower shop, and Pinser's, down at the heel for so many years, sports a Handy Hardware sign, definitely an improvement. But it's the Britannia Hotel that leaps out at Hannah, forcing her to flick on her turn signal and pull over.
The Britannia Hotel on the southeast corner of Victoria and Main, the scene of Hannah's first summer job, waitressing in the venerable dining room, tips hoarded for first-year university and freedom. The Britannia Hotel, now a Vintage Sundown Inn, beautifully restored with sandblasting and replica 1920s windows. I wasn't aware, she thinks staring at it, that the Sundown Inn chain went in for vintage anything. There are still the marble stone steps, though, the wrought iron railings, and the bas-relief Victorian couple over the huge double doors, he with suitcase, she with parasol, Respite to the Weary Traveler etched beneath: a momentary reminder of Hannah's youthful enthusiasm and innocence.
No one now believes what small-town Fifties life was like—not with their smartphones and morning-after pills and rap lyrics. But it wasn't like Leave It to Beaver and Happy Days and all the other TV cardboard-cutout versions of the decade. The Britannia Hotel in 1955, the catalyst for her first-and-last date before university, was indifferent to the unforeseen trauma she witnessed there.
Hannah looks up at the three stories and inhales sharply. The hotel and that summer will always be synonymous with Charlie, a Dickensian character, tireless in the kitchen, grateful for his pittance, always cheerful. She rarely lets herself think about what happened to Charlie that afternoon or the role played by Larry Mourand, the boss's hotshot sixteen-year-old son. It's erased, blanked out. She concentrates, instead, on the architecture. Baroque? No. Gothic. Southern Ontario guilt and gothic, a place she has no intention of setting foot in again.
A raw November wind snaps sprawling shrub branches against the house as Colleen arrives for her Monday visit to check on her dad. As always, the smell of urine hits her the minute she unlocks the back door. Chaos. Everything is chaos now that her mom is gone: overgrown shrubs, backyard flowerbeds full of dried-up weeds. The unfairness hits her again as she stands inside the back porch, fists clenched, psyching herself up. Where will she, ye Gods, find her dad today? On the tiled kitchen floor, food-spattered in spite of Heda's weekly cleaning? On the hall stairs, piled up with empties and dirty clothes?
She has to deal with her dad and what's left of his life. She has no choice, never has had. Not when she was living at home and not since she married and never left Franklin: always the good little girl, forever-and-a-day caregiver, even though half the time she'd like to pound the bejesus out of him. For starters, why is he still alive? And why is Colleen left with all of it? If anything in this world was fair, her mom, not her dad, would still be here. Colleen used to dream what it would be like after he was six feet under. She and her mom could fix up the house, sell it. The neighborhood has gone all spiffy except for their old eyesore. Colleen's husband, Art, says board and batten over the Insulbrick would do wonders. Put fancy new appliances in the kitchen, gold faucets and a new tub in the bathroom, and, presto, double its value.
Her mom was all worn out by the years, her beautiful auburn hair almost dull gray, and working shitty shifts at the 7-Eleven. Colleen yells at her sometimes when she's alone out at their farmhouse. You could have moved to one of those snazzy apartments, Mom. You could have gone on a bus tour to Florida, gone to night school, played the piano again.
No, her mom had to get herself hit by a drunk driver. The irony of it—twenty years ago, riding that excuse of a bike home from a late shift at the 7-Eleven, hit by a damn drunk driver.
Colleen stomps into the kitchen to slop more than enough disinfectant into a plastic basin. She's so ticked off, she could almost slosh the stuff down the front of her dad's pants. Elder abuse. She read about it in a magazine the other day, how adult kids beat up on their senile, elderly parents—some smart-ass, young reporter dishing out disgusting details she wished she hadn't read. She would never stoop to such things. Getting older has its advantages; it's toughened her, made her able her to block certain things out—almost forgive.
"I'm all washed up, Madge," her dad slurs as she steers him to the stairs, "should be taken out in the field and shot." How many times had he said that over the years? It's an old racetrack phrase, Lillian, her older sister, told her. When a horse can't run any more, they take it out in the field and shoot it.
"It's Colleen," Colleen reminds him as he staggers up the stairs and into the bathroom. She throws him clean pj's from a pile on the dresser, listens to him stumble into them. "Aim for the damn toilet bowl," she whispers as she pulls back the blanket and waits for him to appear and fall into bed.
She stops in the kitchen and stares at the table. Mostly when she comes into the house, she tries not to look at it. She's tried a couple of times to convince her dad to get rid of it. The legs are rusty, and the stuffing's coming out of one of the chairs. Her dad will have none of it. "What the hell would I want with a new table and chairs?"
It was 1969 or '71—she can't remember the year now—a summer afternoon, trying to be the helpful daughter. Her mom called from work and asked her to take lunch to her dad. Even though he's already snoring upstairs, she sees him sitting there, pissed as usual before noon. Good thing he was that day. Made it easier to get away from him groping her, thinking she was Madge. Good thing she didn't fall apart after or go all funny. Some women did.
Colleen hightails it to the living room to scrub the floor and sofa. In spite of repeated elbow grease and disinfectant, both it and the rug stink. When they finally get him into the nursing home, she's going to throw out the aging sofa, it and every pee-soaked thing in the house. Off to the dump. She'd love to burn it in the backyard, burn the whole damn house, all the junk and hurt: Crazy Daughter Burns Family Home. Nothing erases the odor, still that wet-diaper smell. If it was summer she'd open windows, prop open the back door with an empty case of twenty-four, let a breeze through.
She tiptoes past the stairs, tucks a graying strand into the thick knot piled on her head. She wears it like her mom now, ever since the funeral. Art loves it, calls her his Hepburn girl.
As Colleen pulls on her coat, her dad's snoring increases. He won't remember she was here, probably deny it like anything if she mentions it later. She glances at the stinking mess again. Thank God Heda's cleaning tomorrow. Outside, she kicks at a couple of dead weeds then turns and walks through the backyard to the old wreck of a fence, shrub branches pushing through rotting boards—one sad little red currant bush, missed when they transplanted the rest out at the farm.
Red currant jelly. She found more than fifty jars in the basement after her mom died. Every year while Colleen was at home, her mom gave most of it away to music students, neighbors, anyone who dropped by. Colleen had no idea she kept making it summer after summer. Jars and jars, wax still in place, her mom's neat handwriting on each label. Now Colleen makes the stuff—hears her mom's voice telling her to wash the berries, pick out the stems, hang the bag high enough to let the juice drain right.
Hannah Norcroft's mom loved red currant jelly. Where did that come from? Hannah Norcroft. Her best friend that summer of 1955 when they both waitressed at the Britannia Hotel. There's something she doesn't want to think about. Poor old Charlie and what happened to him. Her life has had too many traumas as it is—most of them not as awful as that. She shouldn't complain, not really. She doesn't most of the time. Just buries it all with the rest of her guilt and carries on.
High strung, smart-as-a-whip Hannah, her mom so grateful for Colleen's mom sending Hannah home with red currant jelly. Mailed a fancy little Thank You note, saying how good it was with roast chicken. Too weird, Colleen thinks, even now. Cranberries are for roast chicken; red currant jelly is for toast or Christmas tarts. Hannah Norcroft. Where would she be now? Probably well-off and successful.
Colleen stares at the tree's bare branches. Where have the last thirty-five years gone?
"What kind of stupid, feel-sorry-for-yourself trip is this?" she says out loud, gripping the steering wheel. A rerun of her soap-opera past. She will not feel sorry for herself. Her mom did enough of that for both of them. She finds her list, something she can hang on to: definite things to do, written down and ticked off one by one, start to finish, hour by week by year by decade.
Her kids tease her about her lists and tell her she should put them all together as a book: Lists that Saved My Life, or, Listing the Years. Could be a best seller, they say. They don't know she has saved most of them in cardboard boxes, up in the attic—why, she has no idea—tucked away behind old curtain rods and boxes of keepsakes. When she dies they'll find them—or when they put her in a home.
"Traitor" runs through her head again. She signed papers two weeks ago, the first step toward getting her dad moved into Sunset Lodge. Art has promised to help when they get the call to take him, though it's not like they'll get any warning. She'll have to call Art to come from the store, and he'll land in late while her dad's ranting about "what the hell is going on anyway?" Art will shuffle his feet and look embarrassed. Colleen will have to make something up. Why they have both showed up in the middle of the day to take her dad somewhere. What she'll tell him, she has no idea. Art will say nothing. Dealing with stress is not one of his strong points.
Nathaniel Bowen, who built the Britannia in 1926 when Franklin still had aspirations of becoming the provincial capital, kept his hotel operating right through the Great Depression and Second World War. He died, suddenly, of a heart attack in 1945, many said because his only son, groomed to be heir, was killed at Dieppe. Less than three months later, businessman and entrepreneur Hugh Mourand, looking to relocate from Ohio to Canada, spotted Mrs. Bowen's "for sale" ad in a Cleveland newspaper.
The Franklin town council had already met about the impending fate of the Britannia. She was down at the heel, and Earl Pinser, on the council at the time, thought they should ensure that the building be preserved, not modified or modernized like that ugly new addition on Franklin High. Harold Clark, an ex-army colonel from the First World War, said that considering the historical importance of the hotel to the town, Mrs. Bowen should give preference to local buyers, "Franklin blood," as he called it. Sarah Finn, an antique dealer and the only woman on council, said persuasion was always more effective than force, and that whomever became the owners should be welcomed into the community and encouraged to carry on the Britannia's tradition. This was met with "hear, hear" from the men, generally at a loss to respond to the flamboyant Mrs. Finn, who wore large hats and gloves to council meetings and who, while she was campaigning for council, rode the garbage trucks to personally check out complaints of discrimination between rich and poor areas of town.
The Mourands were definitely not Franklin blood. As soon as they arrived, the hotel was closed up tight for a week. Everyone speculated as to what they were doing. Earl Pinser, good hardware man that he was, was sure they were taking inventory. Harold favored vermin and insect extermination, as God knows who had been holed up there for the last few months. Mrs. Finn said it really wasn't any of their business, and she was sure the Mourands were assessing the situation and making new plans. When the doors opened again, it was to a series of out-of-town workmen and goods going in, and considerable piles of plaster and old carpeting going out. Franklin old timers and the town council, except for Mrs. Finn, remained tight-lipped and watchful.
Mrs. Finn waltzed in the first day, the brim of her hat collecting plaster dust, her leather boots clicking on the foyer's hardwood floor. She found Mr. Mourand in the back office, papers and boxes everywhere.
"I'm representing town council," she said, extending a gloved hand," and I'd like to welcome you to Franklin."
Hugh Mourand stood, his six-foot-three frame towering over the diminutive Mrs. Finn, his large hand enveloping hers. "Delighted to meet you, Mrs. Finn, my pleasure indeed. Deandra and I plan to rejuvenate the old place, turn her back into the gem she once was."
"The council will be pleased to hear this," Mrs. Finn replied. "The Britannia deserves to be the town's centerpiece again."
"I can't take you through right now, but as soon as we get her shipshape, I'll invite council in for a tour."
"Excellent, Mr. Mourand, Franklin Council will be right behind you." Mrs. Finn turned to leave.
"I'm sure my wife would like to meet you," Mourand added. "She's finding the adjustment from city living a bit difficult."
"Tell her to drop in to my antique shop, Finn's Collectibles. It's on the same side as the Britannia, one block west."
Mourand nodded and, flashing what would come to be his trademark smile, returned to the clutter on his desk.
Mrs. Finn triumphantly reported to the next council meeting that the Mourands were following closely in the Bowen tradition and that the Britannia would be a town showplace again.
By the mid-fifties, when Colleen Miller and Hannah Norcroft worked there, the hotel was functioning at full capacity, both Rotary and Masons holding weekly dinner meetings in the recarpeted dining room and an ongoing clientele of traveling salesmen, business men, and itinerant laborers booking into the renovated single rooms upstairs, a number of which contained original Victorian furniture. The Mourands kept the third floor for themselves with private stairs down to the second-floor hallway. There, in one of the storage rooms next to the kitchen stairs, Charlie had his room.
Years before, whenever Charlie had arrived, and no one knew for certain, Mrs. Bowen had converted this storage room into his living quarters. He ate his meals in the kitchen and, as far as anyone knew, used the basement facilities. Mrs. Bowen was adamant Charlie stay on when the place was sold. Rumor had it, she made it a condition of sale.
Hugh Mourand, who still maintained his US connections, was a shrewd businessman with a seemingly bottomless pocket. He quickly made himself known about town, dropping in at every shop on the main drag to introduce himself, charming the women and impressing the men. He wore stylish suits, often a cravat at his neck, his wavy salt-and-pepper hair a tad longer than stylish for a man his age. He joined Rotary and promised generous amounts to local charities, gaining the confidence and support of even the most conservative small-town thinkers.
Deandra Mourand, known as Daisy, wore filmy, slightly out-of-date dresses with trailing sleeves and layered skirts. She frequented Sarah Finn's antique shop, and Sarah made sure only the best information about the Mourands was circulated. Deandra Humphrey had danced with the American Ballet Company until a knee injury forced her to change employment. She told Sarah that she met Hugh when working as an assistant bookkeeper in a classy Chicago hotel. There were several miscarriages before little Larry was born in 1939. Although a sickly baby, he grew rapidly into a lanky boy, tall as his father by the time he was sixteen. His mother doted on him and told Sarah Finn he was a perfect son. With his father's wavy hair and his mother's aquamarine eyes, he was dubbed the Personality Kid by the locals at Roamer's restaurant.
Larry charmed his teachers, excelling each school year with little effort or work. He could be arrogant and easily riled up, though, and following too many fights on the way home from sixth grade, Daisy had taken to driving and picking him up in the Lincoln Continental. Few dared taunt him, and the one or two he favored were occasionally allowed inside the luxurious vehicle on the way home. Up until fifth grade, he liked to parade around the hotel foyer after school, sporting his Matchbox Models collection, stored in a wooden cigar box. He learned quickly that male patrons loved to admire the tiny cars and trucks, holding them up to inspect their detail and authenticity, often slipping him a quarter for his trouble. Later, he took to building model airplanes in his father's office, bringing them out for appreciation once finished. Since ninety-five percent of the weekday clientele was male, his audience was ongoing. Mourand watched the boy, feeding his air of superiority and shooing him upstairs only when Daisy insisted.
Once the boy turned fourteen, however, Mourand had Larry spend Saturday mornings behind the foyer counter, learning to deal with the public, getting a feel for the business. Dressed in a custom-made suit, his blond hair slicked back, he charmed everyone. Traveling salesmen kept telling his father the boy was born to sell, while itinerant workers, usually at the hotel for a week or so, tended to flatter him and call him Sir.
By 1955, Larry was a sixteen-year-old pro, suave and confident, charming older women and leaning easily into his father's smooth sophistication. Friday afternoons after school, he often swaggered down the main drag, smoking a Philip Morris pilfered from his dad's pack, looking for girls to chat up, returning home only when he knew supper would be ready. His found his mother's continued coddling an embarrassment and figured he was old enough to do whatever he wanted.
That summer in Franklin proved to be a turning point for almost everyone at the Britannia Hotel, and as turning points often are, it was random in its choice of victims and relentless in its consequences.
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