Saturday, May 5, 2012

Sleuthin' Sidekicks - A to Z Challenge Story by Ruby Young

Secrets can be dangerous. Everybody has secrets...things they don't share with others. I know several secrets that I shouldn't. If someone else was aware that I knew what has happened, I'd be in grave danger. (I do mean grave, because that's where I almost wound up, don't cha' know?)


This morning when I woke up, I got up from the doorway where I had been trying to rest and folded my blanket, then placed it in my folding cart. Yeah, I live on the streets of a midsized town in the southern United States. People call me AnnaBee but my given name is Anna Belle. I do okay for someone with little money or financial means. 


If you were to see me walking along the streets pushing my cart in front of me, I wouldn't be very noticeable at all. I would just appear to be another homeless street person. You would see a little old skinny lady with white hair, wearing a pair of blue jeans, with a denim shirt and a jaunty billed cap to keep the sun out of her eyes. Sneakers and socks keep her bare feet off the pavement. If you were to look into her face, you would see snappy blue eyes, and a mouth that crinkles when she smiles. Nothing out of the ordinary.


I have quite a few friends among the people I see daily and I'll tell you more about them later. Right now I am on my way to find bathroom facilities. You know, keeping anonymous on the streets is a talent and one way to do so is not to appear dirty and unkempt. There are several places that I can use for this purpose. Service stations have public restrooms, and so does the bus terminal. The shelter where I sometimes sleep has showers as well, but sometimes are hard to get to use. Believe me, I know them all. 

I whistled to Clancy, my little Jack Russell and my constant companion. We took off for the bus terminal down the block from us. There are some shady looking characters that frequent the terminal, but we avoid them. Clancy is a great help in keeping them away from me. Jack Russells aren't called terriers for no reason. 

When we arrived at the terminal, we walked in like we owned the place and headed for the rest room. It didn't take long for me to take care of my business and clean up. (I carry a couple of wash cloths with me and a small cake of soap. I also carry a toothbrush and plastic bag of baking sody for cleanin' my teeth.) Aren't plastic bags wonderful? It has been said that "cleanliness is next to godliness". I don't know about that, but I do know that a person don't have to be dirty. 

As Clancy and I were on our way out of the terminal, I spotted a character that could cause real trouble for me if he saw me.  What to do? Where to hide? He knew Clancy, too. My heart was beating like a trip hammer in my ears; I picked up Clancy and put him into my cart, and hid behind a broad column in the terminal. I waited about five minutes and peeked around the column as cautiously as I could. I saw the man leaving the building and then I went out the doors on the other side. Whew!

Now we needed some breakfast. I had a couple of dollars that I had made collecting cans and bottles. They are pretty easy to find when you live on the streets, especially in our neighborhood. Now, I know it may seem offensive to some people to find food in dumpsters, but sometimes you find some pretty good stuff. That is, if you can get to a dumpster behind grocery stores just after they have thrown away out of date goods. I really like apples, but now they use that radiating stuff on them and they hardly ever get thrown away.

We were in luck, and found some pretty good stuff for our breakfast. We went to the park down the block; while I sat on the park bench, Clancy was sitting at my feet. He was gnawing on a t-bone we'd found in a dumpster behind a little Italian restaurant we know. 

As we sat there eating our breakfast, along came Cookie Jack, ambling along in a rolling manner, kind of like a sailor walks,  swaying from side to side. Clancy looked up from his T-Bone and wagged his tail.


"Hey, there, AnnaBee! How are you today? Got any cookies? Hey, Clancy!" Cookie Jack leaned over and patted Clancy carefully on the head.


"I'm doin' jist great, Jackie...It's a beautiful day, ain't it? Sorry, no cookies today. I'll bet if ya' check with Mrs. Clark over on Cedar Avenue, she may have baked some for ya', though."


"Sure thing, I'm on my way over there now. Good to see you. Bye."


Now the thing about Cookie Jack is that he never had any cookies when he was a kid, and he is just crazy about them. I guess maybe a psychologist would say he has a lot of personal issues because of his past. He has a habit of lifting a few cookies anytime he is near them. He just can't seem to help it, and it don't matter what kind they are. His favorites are oatmeal raisin. You might say he is a regular "cookie jack". Ha.


After Jackie left, I sat there reflecting on the changes that come in life. A person can be doing pretty good, just kind of sailing along, then, "wham!" things begin happening that turn his life upside down. Jackie had had a bad childhood, and now he was just kind of wandering around like a will o' the wisp, without any real direction to his life. Then take me, for instance, life on the street was not what I had in mind when I got married so many years ago, and  yet, here I was, homeless... and there were other people that I had gotten to know that had fallen prey to situations beyond their control. I guess a couple of hours must have passed while I was sitting there enjoying the fresh air and the sound of the birds in the trees overhead.


"Are you about finished with your breakfast, Clancy? We need ta' be on our way and see if I can find some kind of work today. Ya know we can't be freeloadin' all the time. As my Ma used to say, 'Idle hands are the devil's workshop and people that have nothin' ta do can get into all kinds a' trouble'. Let's go see if we can find some cans and bottles or maybe we can find some yard work ta do."


Clancy looked up at me, as if to say, "What? Already? I just got started good!" But he got up anyway, and carried his bone with him. He definitely wasn't through with that bone.


Getting hold of my cart with one hand, I carried the trash from what had held my breakfast and we began walking through the park. I saw a trash can and began my methodical search through it for drink cans and bottles. I found a few of them, and put them into one of the plastic bags attached to the side of my cart. 


While I was  rummaging around there, I found something else that was going to change my life for a while. It was a dirty, wrinkled paper bag and when I touched it, I felt something inside it. I looked around to see if anyone was watching and saw no one paying any attention. Quickly drawing out the paper bag, I peeked inside it and saw a woman's handbag. Stuffing the paper bag into my cart, I decided to go somewhere quiet and alone so I could inspect the handbag without being disturbed. Who knows, there could be a lot of money inside it, and if so, there might be a reward for its return.


Where to go now? I looked down at Clancy, who stood staring up at me, seeming to know that something out of the ordinary was up. We left the park and headed towards an alleyway that was usually deserted and quiet. When we got there, however, my good friend and buddy, Lucy Mae, was seated on a crate, leaning against the dumpster and crying. 


"Hey, Lucy Mae, what's wrong? Why are you upset? Have you had bad news, or is it your bum leg actin' up again?"


"Oh, hi, AnnaBee. It's my son, Melvin...he's talkin' about goin'  to get me committed to a nursin' home,  'cause he says I'm an embarrassment to him, livin' on the streets. Some of his friends saw me the other day and recognized me. His hotshot lawyer friends seem to think less of him because of me. I don't know what I'm goin' ta' do. You're lucky you don't have any family to harass you, AnnaBee."


Putting my arms around her, I attempted to comfort Lucy Mae. It was true that I had no family, having lost my husband several years ago to a debilitating disease.  It depleted our finances, causing me to lose our home and everything that I owned. It was also true that we had never been blessed (or cursed) with children, depending on your viewpoint, and I was an only child. The only family I had now were street people, but they were like family. 


"There, there, Lucy. We won't let that happen. It so happens that we know a good lawyer, too, who may help without havin' to pay him anything. Don't give up. We'll fight it. Okay?"


I patted her round, stooped shoulder and then remembered the purse I had found. Maybe there was some money in it, and if so, there might be a reward for the money!


"Hey, Lucy Mae, looky here. I just found this purse in a trash can, and there may be somethin' worth money or even cash in it. Let's check it out, okay?"


Lucy wiped her eyes on the back of her sleeve, as I pulled over another crate and sat down. I looked around to make sure no one else could see us, then removed the paper bag from my cart.


We opened the paper bag and I took out the purse. It was not very large. 


"Hmmmm...not big enough to have a lot of cash in it, but maybe something else of value." 


I pulled out what looked like a small book of some kind, and felt something small and hard through the cloth of the bag. 


"A gun? Oh, my goodness! I'd better use somethin' to take it out of the bag, so I won't get no fingerprints on it, jist in case it was used for a crime."


I tore off a piece of plastic that was in my cart and reached into the purse. It was a gun, alright! I looked around again to make sure we were still alone. There was still something else in the purse. 


Clancy gave a warning "yip" and we heard a noise at the end of the alleyway. I quickly stuffed the book and gun back into the purse and put it back into the paper bag. We put the paper bag back into my cart, underneath stuff that was on top.


Putting my arm back around her shoulders, I patted her on the back, lifting my head to see if anyone was approaching us. 


Sure enough, down the alleyway came another person we knew. Old Willie the Wino was headed straight for us. He was apparently looking for a place to drink his breakfast, and we knew it would do no good to try to run him off. Willie was a determined fellow and not easy to dissuade, so we decided to vacate the place and let him have it.


I helped Lucy Mae get to her feet, and she placed a hand on her left hip as she got up. We spoke to Willie, and he just kind of waved us away as we left.


We headed on down the street, looking for another deserted alley or a quiet place where we could examine the rest of the contents of the purse. Who knew what else could be in it? (Well, I reckon the person who put it in the trash can would know. Ha.) 


We decided to go to the mall, where no one would pay us much mind. After all, we were clean, and Clancy could be quiet.  As we headed for the restrooms that were near the food court, I could see Clancy's beady brown eyes peeking from under the plastic bag. (I put him in the cart when we went indoors and no one knew he was there.)


I hurried into one of the stalls, nervously locking the door, and quick-like, I removed the purse from the paper bag. I once again took out the little book, and the gun, being careful to leave no prints on it. Just one more item was in it. Excitedly, I reached in and pulled out the other item. It was an envelope, and it bore no address. Inside it was a page from a telephone directory, with the heading "coffee" at the top. 


"Hmmmm, curiouser and curiouser," I mused to myself. 

I hurriedly felt around inside the purse again and there didn't seem to be anything else. Wait a minute! There was a slit in the lining near the top, and I pulled at it a little to see if I could make it bigger. There! I reached down inside it, and found a fine gold chain with a diamond and emerald pendant on it. Oh, my! I know my eyes must have opened wider than they ever had before.

My hands were  shaking, and my heart must have sped up to nearly heart-attack-tripping speed. What to do? Where to put it for safe-keeping? We couldn't keep it with us. If someone else got hold of our carts, my find would be gone fer sure. I quickly put everything back into the purse, and replaced it in the paper bag.

"Excuse me, Clancy, I gotta hide this."

I moved little Clancy to the top of the commode and then thrust the paper bag as far down into the inner recesses of my folding cart as it would go. Picking up Clancy, I hid him once again under a plastic bag so that only his eyes could be seen by me, and exited the stall. 

"Lucy Mae, are you ready to leave?" I tapped on the stall door next to mine. 

Lucy Mae came out, wiping her red-rimmed eyes and blowing her nose. Her frizzy brown hair ringed her chubby face like a halo. She was still worrying about her son, Melvin. I knew that maybe I held the answer to help solve her problem. 

We headed over to the wash basins and washed our hands, then stuck them down into the hand dryers, feeling the warm air blow toward our faces. 

"What an invention! Have you ever seen such wonderful things as they are comin' out with now!" Lucy Mae announced with amazement.

"Nope, but I got somethin' even more excitin' to discuss with ya later. Shhhh!" I whispered to her. "Let's get outta here."

I started out the door and just happened to see The Weasel coming down the hallway toward the restrooms. He was the guy I had seen earlier in the morning at the bus terminal. What were the odds of seeing him twice in one day? I ducked back inside the doorway and hid behind the wall, holding Lucy Mae back as well.

We waited about two minutes and then hot-footed it out of there, heading for the hallway out into the mall. 

"Let's go talk, and then we have some decisions to make," I informed Lucy Mae. "We need somebody we can trust. Ah, yes! I just thought of someone. We'll go see our friend, Pastor Joe, up at the Mission. He can help us think this thing through. You remember how he helped us last year when we got tangled up with the mob?"


"Ha! How could I ever forget that? We thought we wuz goners fer sure!"


"Well, let's go, then, and see if he is free to talk to us. We've got some decisions ta make and we don't want ta take any chances and make the wrong ones."


We soon were on our way out the street, heading for the Mission on Jaybird Hill. Pastor Joe Nardocci ran the Mission with an iron fist in a velvet glove. Nobody put anything over on him, but he was kindness itself to those who were in need. Pastor Joe had been our friend for many years and kept his ear attuned to the goings-on in the town. 


It was about a thirty minute walk for two old ladies, especially when one of them had a bum hip. When we arrived, we found him squatting near one of the tables in the small dining room, chatting with some people who were eating. The lights overhead reflected off his bald pate, which was rimmed with a silvery grey fringe. His denim clothing was always pressed razor sharp, with his sleeves rolled up to near his elbows. He kept his number twelves spit-polished, as though he had just stepped out of a band-box.


Glancing over at us, his face broke into a smile. 


"What are you two scalawags doing here? Are you hungry? Go over there and get a tray. We just started serving lunch." Pastor Joe stood up and we looked up into his face towering over us. 


"Well, now that you mention it, I reckon maybe we could stand somethin' ta eat and then we need ta talk to ya', when ya' have the time. We got a few little somethin's we are anxious about, ya know." I replied.


Leaning over, he whispered into my ear, "Oh, hey, what are you involved in now? Trouble like last year? Poking your noses into someplace they don't belong?" 


"Why, Pastor Joe, how can you say sich a thing?" I smiled back at him and Lucy Mae nodded her head like a bobble-head. "We never plan on gettin' into any trouble. It jist kinda happens, ya know."


"Sure, just get yourself a tray, eat, and we'll talk later in my office." Shaking his head, he walked away and continued his journey around the room.


Speaking to friends as we went, we wove our way through the tables to the serving line and each got a tray of food, sitting down at one where we could be alone. I took Clancy out of the cart, and set him in the floor under our table, slipping him bites of food as we ate. 


We had so many questions, like - what was in the book, were the jewels in the necklace real, why did the envelope contain a page from a phone directory, how did it get into the trash can, and had the gun been used in a robbery...was it still loaded...did it still have a serial number on it...any fingerprints...why were all of those items in a purse...was it a man or a woman who had left the paper bag in the trash can...and why leave it THERE of all places?


Those were all viable questions and I knew we weren't going to find the answers all at one time. In fact, we might never know the answers. It was up to us to find out if we could. It was just the kind of thing we enjoyed doing, because we are a couple of little old busybodies when it comes down to it. Ha. We had a lot of resources at our disposal, plus the time to do the looking.


We sat there and chattered a while, trying to look unconcerned ( a difficult thing to achieve, considering what was going on in our heads). We were glancing around the room every once in a while. 


We saw Cookie Jack heading towards our table, carrying a tray, and I whispered to Lucy Mae, "Shhh. Mum's the word now."


She gave me a withering look that said, "Do ya think I'm stupid? Ha!"


"Hello, Jack!" we said together. "Have a seat and tell us what you've been up to since we saw ya this morning."


"Well, I walked over ta  Miz Clark's house ta ask her if she had any cookies for me today, and nobody was at home. She is always there. I wonder why she didn't answer the door. Do ya suppose she is sick?" 


"Why don't you try it again after lunch? Maybe she had ta go ta the grocery store fer some ingredients to make 'em." I tried to reassure Jack. Poor fellow, he doesn't quite have it all together in his head. He spent a lot of time in foster care homes and was shuttled about from place to place. When he finally grew up, he became a homeless, child-like giant, with a yearning for acceptance. As I looked up into his smiling, freckled face, topped by the lop-sided pork-pie hat, my eyes watered and my heart ached for him.. 


I was remembering how he told me about living in so many foster homes, how the kids poked fun at him for being so huge, and havin' the big red birthmark on his neck, and how, in one of the homes, all the kids (except for him) would get a cookie for supper if they had "been good". Somehow, he always missed it because of some tiny infraction of a rule, something he had done or failed to do, and in place of getting a cookie, he was locked in a closet for several hours. 


Jack looked closely at me and seeing the mist in my eyes, queried me. 


"What's wrong, AnnaBee? Are you crying? Did somebody hurt your feelings? Tell me who it is and I'll take care a' them!"


"No, no, Jackie...I must have gotten somethin' in my eye and it made them water."


"Here, let me see. I'll get it out for you." Picking up a napkin, Jack leaned over and gently wiped the corner of my eyes, blotting the tears.


"Thank  you, Jackie; they feel better now, it must have washed out."


Did you ever try to swallow food when you are all emotionally choked up? Believe me, it is impossible to do. I had to wait a minute before I could continue eating. I finally got my feelings under control and we went on with our meal. I noticed that Jack had about a half a dozen cookies on his tray. Thinking to myself, "He'll never have enough cookies to satisfy that hunger," I smiled at Jack and we sat there visiting with one another as we ate.


We finished our meal and Cookie Jack got up. He picked up our trays. "I'll take these over to the tray window for you and see you later. I'm going to go back over and see if Mrs. Clark is at home. I'm worried about her. If I can't get her ta answer the door, I'll maybe get the policeman ta check her house. Okay?"


"Sure, Jackie, that's a good idea," replied Lucy Mae, eager to get rid of Jack so that we could talk some more about our "find". Jackie looked like he was ready to run over to Mrs. Clark's house. He left in a hurry. 


Lucy Mae and I sat there a few minutes longer, drinking our coffee. Just as we were rising from the table, who should walk in but the Weasel. I know I haven't really told  you much about him, but he is a really shady character that we met a couple of years ago. We avoid him as much as possible, because he was an insufferable creep who seemed to get pleasure in following us  around. I have never figured out why. It is not that he is ugly, just that he can't seem to keep his eyes off of us. I know we're not pretty, so it can't be that. Ha. I think it began around the time we got into trouble with the mob. Some how I see him connected with them. 

Anyway, he was headed our way, with his silvery hair glinting in sunlight coming through the windows. I saw him sidling our way, trying to look innocuous, and I poked Lucy Mae.

"Look who's coming our way! Let's head for Pastor Joe's office right now. Hurry! The Weasel can't spy on us while we're in there!" 

We got up so quickly, I lost my balance, and "Dang it!" I tripped over my own feet. Before Lucy Mae could do anything, I felt none other than the Weasel grab my elbow to help me up. 

"I'm okay," I muttered ungraciously, feeling uncomfortable with his hand on me. I pulled back, shrugging my shoulders like something nasty had just touched me.

He just nodded and backed off, like he, too, was anxious to escape. I have a peculiar feeling he would have tipped his hat, if he had been wearing one.

Now, I was embarrassed, and would have maybe apologized for my  rude behavior, but the Weasel was gone.

Goodness, but now I was feeling quite joyless, jumpy and jittery. The taste of ashes filled my mouth, and I felt as though I had lost something precious. How could I have been so judgmental of someone I didn't know? I had been guilty of deciding who someone was without actually having any real facts upon which to base my opinion. Shame on me!

Well, I would have to make amends for my rush to judgment of the Weasel. But still, why had he been watching us so much, and following us around? Nope, I wasn't quite ready to completely change my  mind, yet. It would take some investigating to know for sure. I was going to make that one of my priorities over the next few days. When we got the time, we were going to follow him!

Now, it was time to go into Pastor Joe's office. I looked around and saw him, motioning to us that he had time right now to visit with us. We got our folding carts, heading into the inner sanctum for our important chat with Joe. I could hardly wait.

Lucy Mae and I sat down in one of the comfortable chairs near the desk, waiting impatiently for him to be seated behind the desk. 

"Now, what is it that you wanted to talk about? Discovered  another murder?"

"No, Pastor Joe, nothing like that, but I did find somethin' in the park this morning, in a trash can. Here it is," I replied, pulling the paper bag out of my cart. "We wanted to ask you what we should do with these things in this purse. You might want to put on a pair of gloves to keep your fingerprints off the items."

"Okay. Hmmm, what do we have here? This looks like it might be a journal of some kind or a diary. We'll have to take a closer look at it. This feels like it might be a gun...Whoa! It is! It is a snub-nosed revolver that fits easily into a lady's purse or a man's pocket. What have you two little ladies gotten into this time?"

"We don't quite know fer sure, Pastor Joe. That's why we're here; but wait, there's more stuff in the purse. Lucy Mae, you haven't seen the rest of it either."

As Pastor Joe pulled out the gold chain and pendant, I heard him and Lucy suck in their breath, looking at the pendant, glittering and swinging in his hand. 

"That has got to be worth a fortune!" Lucy cried out. 

"Shhhhhh. Somebody out there could hear ya! We don't want anyone ta know about it yet," I explained. "Take the other thing outta the bag, Pastor Joe."

"Let's see, an envelope. Anything in it? Yes, a page torn from a telephone book. Hmmmm. Heading at the top says, 'Coffee'." Joe ran his fingers down the columns on the page. His eyes stopped reading when he came to the word, 'Coins'. 

Looking up at us, "Did you find any coins in the purse?"

"No, what you've taken out is all that was in it. What should we do? We don't keep things that don't belong to us, ya' know. It's not honest. We have ta find out, though, whose they are, and if the gun was used ta maybe rob someone of those other things. I guess we could begin by checkin' in the newspapers about robberies and maybe asking around on the streets."

"Now, AnnieBee, that sounds like more trouble for you all to be getting into. It's too risky for you to be snooping around asking questions like that."

"Pastor, take another gander at the gun, and see if it's got the serial numbers still on it, or if they're missing, please?" 

"AnnieBee, do you know how much trouble you can get into if you are caught with a gun that has been used in a crime? A minimum of five years, right off the bat. You're supposed to turn in any gun within twenty four hours of the time you found it. Little lady, we're fooling around with real danger here." Pastor Joe was inspecting the gun, even as he talked. "Oh, my goodness, this thing is loaded!"

"Don't drop it, Joe, it could go off. Be careful, take the bullets out." I was assuming he knew how to do that. "Then check and see if the serial number is still on it, somewhere."

Pastor Joe carefully unloaded the revolver, and looked on the part of the gun which holds the cylinder and lets it swing out. He saw that the numbers were faintly visible, which meant that someone had tried to remove them. 

He laid the revolver to one side and said, "Let's take a look at the book and see what it has inside it. It may hold a clue to the rest of this."

Lucy Mae and I got up and went around to his side of the desk, one of us on each side of him. We stuck our noses down close to his face and all three of us were ready to inspect the book. He looked at each of us a few seconds, asking, "Do you mind moving back just a little bit? I feel like I'm surrounded." 

"Oops, sorry, Pastor," we muttered together, as we moved our heads up just a tad. We did want to see, after all, ya' know.

"Hmmm. Well, it looks like it is a journal that belonged to someone named Gloria... no last name...and the date on the first page is January 1st, 1965."

He flipped through several more pages. It looked like Gloria was writing about just her everyday life, which didn't look very exciting to us. We must have stood there about twenty minutes, scanning the book, as he turned the pages. 

Just then, the door to the office flew open and Cookie Jack rushed in, white-faced, breathless, and shouting, "Layin' there! She's just a layin' there!  I couldn't wake her up. I shook her. She just kept layin' there!" 

Jackie ran on into the office, sobbing wildly. His giant hulk was shaking from head to toe (believe me, that's a lot of shaking body). People who had been lingering in the eating hall had gathered in the doorway, muttering to one another. 

"Well, it looks like Cookie Jack has finally done it... He's killed somebody. I knew it would eventually happen." 

"Quiet, you all... Clear out of here, so I can find out what has happened." Pastor Joe quickly emptied the room of the gaggle of inquisitive onlookers. "Now, Jackie, sit down here, and take a deep breath. Rest a few minutes and AnnaBee's going to go get you some water to drink. Just relax, son, relax."

Patting Jackie on the shoulders, Pastor Joe expertly calmed him. The sobs slowly changed into shuddering sniffs. I ran out into the hall, got a glass of water, noticing the people out there were huddled together, still looking at one another, knowingly nodding their heads and whispering. 

As I re-entered the office, giving Jackie the glass of water, I noticed his hands. "Good heavens! Jackie! Forevermore! You have blood on your hands and shirt. Where did that come from? Who on God's green earth did you see laying where?"

Now Jackie had renewed his tears, his face screwed up, as he looked down at his bloody hands and shirt. The water spilled onto the floor as his hands shook. "I tried to help her, honest I did! The more I shook her, the worse she looked. I even tried to give her artificial respiration, like I've seen them do on television. She just wouldn't wake up!"

"Who,Jackie? Who?" shouted Lucy Mae "who was laying where?"

Then it began to dawn on me. Could it be Mrs. Clark? Had he gone to get some cookies and gotten angry when she didn't have any? 

"Ladies, back up and give the poor man some room. Now, Jackie, just calm down and begin at the beginnin', from where you left us nearly an hour ago."

Jackie looked into our faces and shuddered, his whole body slowly calming. "Well, I left here and headed on over to Miz Clark's house. It didn't take me very long, and when I got there, I rang the doorbell. Then I knocked, real loud. I banged on the front door, hollerin' ta get her to answer it. I wondered where she could be." Jackie gulped loudly, ready to continue his revelations to us. "So, I went around ta the back door, and saw the door was standing open. The neighbors next door was coming over, too."
**********
By now, Lucy Mae's eyes were round as billiard balls and I guess mine were, too. Pastor Joe was wearing a very troubled face, glancing at the telephone, as though wondering when to pick it up and call the police. People were clustered around the door again, curious, listening to the wild story. The same thought was apparently on all our minds...

Murderer! We could be looking at a murderer, sitting there in our midst, pretending to be upset! Cookie Jack might be a simpleton, but he could sense our attitudes toward him changing. A shiver traveled through his body. (Didn't they believe him?)

"We looked through the back door, me and the neighbors, and saw Mrs. Clark layin' on the floor and I rushed in. I thought maybe she had fell, and just couldn't get up. There was flour all over the cabinet tops. Her cat was sittin' up on her chest, lickin', um, um, Kitty was lickin' at a red spot on Mrs. Clark's shoulder. I saw a lot of blood on the floor. Oh-h-h-h, I'm gonna be sick!"

Jackie jumped up and ran over to the waste basket; we all moved back as one, staring in horror and dismay. Just what kind of thing had been going on over at Mrs. Clark's? 

"Lucy Mae, would you go get some wet paper towels? Hurry!" Pastor Joe went over to help Jackie back to the chair, as we continued to wonder about Jackie's story and what else he was going to reveal. "You all stand back, and give Jack some air, please!"

Well, we were just standin' there, all agog, as Lucy Mae came runnin' back in with a bunch of soggy paper towels. (She had really hurried; she wanted to help but also didn't want to miss a word, ya' know.) Pastor Joe took some of the towels and wiped Jackie's face, as we stood lookin' on. 

"Now, Jackie, please continue when you can." Pastor Joe gently patted Jack on the shoulder. Joe handed another paper towel to Jackie so that he could wipe his face again, if he wished.

"Well, I ran Kitty off of Mrs. Clark, and I tried to wake her up, cause she could still be alive, I thought. I felt of her neck and thought she might could still be breathin'. Then I started tryin' to give her that artificial breathin' in her mouth. I had seen it done on TV a lot. Once I saw the firemen doing it on a person they had rescued, so I thought I knew how to do it. Then I tried shakin' her. But I just couldn't wake her up! I looked down at my hands and they was all covered in blood. I looked down at her again, and saw a big hole in her shoulder, where Kitty had been sitting.Then, I just got up and ran out of there, cause I knew she must be .... must be.... deaaaaaaad." Jackie began crying again. 

Nuts! All at once, the realization hit me smack dab in the middle of my stomach! When all the attention had centered on Cookie Jack, we immediately jumped up and forgot about the gun and everything else I had found in the park. It was lying in plain sight on Pastor Joe's desk top. 

While everyone was still focused on Jackie, I moved like a snake over to the desk drawer, silently pulled it open, picked up a paper towel from the corner of the desk, and removed every item into the drawer. Then I picked up the phone. 

"Don't you think we should call the police?" I sweetly directed the question toward Pastor Joe.

"Yes, yes! That would be a good idea, AnnaBee! We really need to let Jack tell them his story. I know they will want to get his take on what happened."

Jackie looked up at us as though he were a fly in the midst of a spider web, unable to escape. Poor Jackie! Now he would have to go through his story several more times. There could be no doubt that he would be taken to police headquarters and grilled like a steak, til he'd feel like a charred mess.

"No, no, I don't wanna go down there! I don't wanta be hit with a rubber hose and have a big light put into my eyes!" Jackie had been watching old cop movies in the rec room at the Mission. He really was afraid of the police.

"Now, Jackie," soothed Pastor Joe, "they're not going to hurt you. They'll just ask you some questions and let you tell your story. They might even give you a cookie or two. Who knows?"

"Well, okay, if you're sure." The thought of cookies brightened his demeanor. 

Just as I was getting ready to punch in 911, I looked up and saw Lieutenant Shannon grinning broadly, gazing directly into my eyes. The crowd at the door had parted upon their arrival in the doorway. The police had arrived.

"Well, well. Lookie here. It's our own little Shamuses, Miss Marple and Ms. Fletcher. I see you have your inquisitive little noses pokin' right in the middle of a police investigation, as usual. How do you manage to do this so often?"

"Oh, hi, Lieutenant, I guess we're just lucky that way," I grinned back. "We just happen to be around at the same time things are goin' on, I reckon, maybe? We don't plan it, ya' know."

Turning to Jackie, "Well, young man, it seems we need to have a bit of a talk, and it would probably be easier for all concerned, if we did it downtown at the precinct. I think we can be on our way in a couple of minutes." 

Looking to Pastor Joe, I silently sent him a message asking him if he would be going with them to represent Cookie Jack in a way and kind of advise him. He understood and nodded to me.

"Say, Lieutenant, could I go along and stay with Jackie while he talks to you all. I have already heard his story and it might make him more comfortable talking about the whole matter. You know he's harmless and wouldn't hurt a flea."

"Well, I don't know, now. Right now he is what we call a 'person of interest' and one never knows what a body is capable of if provoked. He is certainly big enough to have done away with Mrs. Clark. But.... I guess it would be okay for you to be with him for awhile, since he is alone in this world." 

I piped up with a question of my own, "How did you know to come here? Oh, hey! That Old Lady Simmons next door never had a good thing to say about Jackie or Mrs. Clark.  Always with her nose stuck through the curtains, watchin' the goin's on in the whole neighborhood. I'll bet she couldn't wait to open that big fat mouth of hers and flap her lips about Jackie bein' over there twice today. Ooops, I mean, bein' over there while ago." Darn! I was always sayin' more than I intended to when I got goin'. 

"Yeah? Well, Jackie, my boy, let's just get on down to the station and have us a little chat. Come on, Pastor Joe, we'll be on our way, now. Don't go too far anywhere, ladies, I'll be wanting to talk to you later on today. I'll be sending someone around to find you, if not today, then in the morning. We got us some talking to do."

"Okay, Lieutenant! We'll be around somewhere in the neighborhood. Tell ya' what! We'll come down on our own and talk to ya in the mornin'. How's that?" I was figurin' maybe I could garner some information by talkin' to our friendly policeman, if I worked it right.

"I guess that would be okay. Right now, we have to talk to Cookie Jack and do some more looking at evidence."

They left, and looking at Lucy Mae, I shooed everybody out of Pastor Joe's office, then reclaimed my 'find' from the drawer, returning the items to the purse, the paper bag, and then all of it into my folding cart. Clancy, who had been guarding my cart, looked up at me and yipped, as if to say, "What now?"

Lucy looked at me. "What are we gonna do now? Do you reckon that Jackie had a..whatta' ya' call it..one of them...

"Psychotic breakdowns?" I finished the sentence for Lucy Mae. 

"Yeah, one a' them things!"

"Well, I'd say it's more likely he'd have one after they get through throwin' questions at him, down there at the police station. You remember, Lieutenant Shannon can be quite merciless when he gets to goin', don't ya' know!" I shook my head. "Poor Jackie, he don't have such a strong constitution when it comes to bein' in a stressful situation."

By now, we were well on our way out the front door and down the street. I suggested to Lucy that we go to the library and do some research and see what we could discover in the Fourth Estate. 

"Fourth Estate? What in the heck are you talkin' about? I swear, AnnieBee, you fling more words and stuff around than I ever heard of! Is that the name of a book or what?"

"Oh, I simply meant the newspapers, Lucy. I thought everyone had heard the public press called the Fourth Estate. Sorry, didn't mean to throw ya', old friend. Maybe we can find something out about the things I found in the park this morning. We still got a lot of daylight left, ya' know. Come on, Clancy, quit running over to every bush and fire hydrant ya' see."

It wasn't long til we reached the building with the lions guarding the steps. Once again, I reached down and lifted Clancy to deposit him in the folding cart I was pushing. Up the steps we went into the brightly lit reception area of the library. Thank goodness these people knew us and didn't mind two little old homeless ladies coming in to read and rest. 

Heading for the section where the newspapers were located, we each picked up one of the most recent and sat down to search them for any hint of a robbery that might have taken place in our town or one nearby. We were really excited! Now, we might find the answers to our big puzzle!

We scoured those newspapers. Couldn't find anything until, all at once, an article caught my attention.

"Look here, at this, Lucy Mae! Look! Look!" 

"No, you look over there sitting at three tables over," whispered Lucy Mae. "It's the Weasel. What are we goin' ta' do, now?"

He didn't seem to be noticing us, but with Lucy Mae a whisperin' so loud and pointing with her head, it prob'ly wouldn't be too long. I certainly didn't want to draw his attention, but I wanted to copy the article and get out of there soon. 

We were in a questing quandary...should we stay or go? I decided to take the proverbial bull by the horns and note the details of the questionable article I had found listed in the police blotter in the paper. Taking my little notebook and pen from my purse in my folding cart, I began jotting down the details from the brief article. Break-in at 31 Castle Way, home of Mrs. L. G. Hyde-Smythe, nothing of value taken except some very private personal papers. Occurred on May 20th of this year. That was all the article said.

Right now, you may be wondering, "What is a homeless person doing with a purse?" 

My reply to that is, "Why ever not? Am I not a person who likes to have some semblance of belonging? Am I not allowed to go into a store without my cart and be considered a normal patron? I do have places where I can occasionally trust my belongings to another person. As for where those places are, it's nobody's business but mine. OOPS! Sorry, I got carried away on a soap box there for a moment."

After recording the information, I nodded to Lucy Mae and suggested we take advantage of the restroom while we were there. I was carrying the paper back to the rack as she replied.

"Sure, that's a nifty idea, bein' as it's been awhile since we went last. Besides we can talk while we're in there without having to keep so quiet."

My glance slid over toward the Weasel; he was reading a magazine and looking very interested in it. He was not noticing  us at all, it seemed. 

Lucy Mae and I saw that the restroom was empty; no one was in the stalls or at the basins. We entered the stalls and began our discussion. 

"A week ago, there was a robbery at a house in the Big Bug section of town, where all the rich people live, Lucy. All that was reported missing were some personal, private papers. I think it could be a clue to our mystery."

"What does that have to do with anything you found, AnnaBee? There weren't any papers except that page from the telephone directory. That ain't considered personal, is it?"

"Well, no, but it could lead to a general raveling out of the clues if we can find out what those personal papers were. They might be connected to the things I found, when we put it all together, don't ya' see?" 

"But we don't really know anything yet, AnnaBee... We don't know where the gun come from, 'er how it was used, 'er anything about that woman that wuz robbed, 'er what them important papers she had took from her wuz, er...."

"That's right, Lucy Mae, but if we can get some time to just set down and think about it, maybe we can come to some good conclusions on it. There's somethin' about that purse, too. Did you smell that strange odor that was a' clingin' to it? Kind of perfumey-like?"

"Well, no, I never got that close to it, what with you and Pastor Joe a-hangin' on to it, like you all been doin'."

"Say, Lucy, we need to do some checkin' around the neighborhood where Ms. Clark lived and see what we can find out about the murder. Maybe we can interview Old Lady Simmons to see what she can blab about the goin's on this morning."

"Whadda' ya' mean, interview her? We ain't no cops, and we ain't got no badges, neither."

"Well, that don't mean we can't jest go over and kinda friendly like, chat her up, does it? I'll bet she's just got lotsa stuff she is dyin' to talk about to anybody that'll listen to 'er. Ha."

An interestin' thought slammed into my noggin' just about then. Was Ms. Clark already dead when I was in the park this morning? That sparked some more questions... How long had she been dead? Could the revolver we had a' been used to shoot her? Or was she knifed? Or was she hit over the head with something? How did she even die, anyway? We needed to hightail it over there and see for ourselves.

"Let's wash our hands and get outta here, Lucy. We got things ta do." I fairly flew from the stall with ideas floatin' around inside my head of what we needed to accomplish before this day was over. In my haste, I almost forgot to get my cart and little Clancy yipped  at me from inside the stall. 

"Sorry, little friend, I wouldn't forget ya' fer nothin', don't cha' know?" Grabbing the cart, I hurried over to the wash basins, and Lucy was already dryin' her hands off. 

"We gonna' go over to talk to that old woman thet's so mean right now, AnnaBee?"

Smilin' smugly, I shot back at her with, "Seein' as how our inquiring minds want ta' know, yeah, we need to be headin' on over and do a little investigatin' as only we know how to do." 

 We left the library rest room, glancing around quickly. Yep, the Weasel was still sittin' there, legs crossed, leanin' back all casual-like, reading a newspaper. Hmm, it seems he was catchin' up on his knowledge, 'er somethin'. Anyways he wasn't lookin' at us, so we moved swiftly (and gracefully, of course) while he was so occupied.

Out the front door and down the steps, we fairly flew (as fast as two little old ladies can fly, ha) and soon we were hustlin' down the street towards Ms. Clark's neighborhood. 

"Wait up, AnnaBee, wait up! You're fergettin' about my bum hip! It's about ta' kill me. I can't go as fast as you can. Look at Clancy, he's just a bouncin' around like crazy, too. You forgot to take him out of your cart."

"Oh, my goodness, Lucy Mae! I'm sorry...sorry, Clancy! sometimes I jest got one gear, and it's go-go-go. I'll slow down. We can talk a little, while we are on our way. We need to be talkin' about your problem with Melvin, don't we?"

"Oh, Lordy! I'd plumb fergot about him! Why'd you have to remind me? I don't want to even be thinkin' about him right now... Say, why do you suppose the Weasel was in the library? I wonder where he lives. Reckon he has an apartment around here? He don't hardly look like he is one of us... you know, homeless... but then, it's hard to know, ain't it?"

"Yeah, it is, Lucy Mae. I jest can't get it out of my mind that he is watchin' us for some reason. He's always turnin' up where we are. Well, here we are at Ms. Clark's street, let's kinda' meander on towards her house and see what's a cookin'. And I don't mean cookies, don't cha' know!"

Approaching her house, we saw the yellow tape across the doorways, but we decided to go up and knock on the front door, like we didn't know anything. We just stood there, waiting....like we expected her to come to the door.

Sure enough, from across the way, Old Lady Simmons shouted to us, wipin' her hands on a dish towel.

"She ain't to home! Ain't you heard? She was murdered early this mornin'."

"Well, land a' livin'! You don't say? Well, I never! Can we jest come over and visit awhile? The pore thang, and her jest in the prime a' life, too. I do declare! Sniff..." I held back a tear or two. It was kinda' sad, after all, don't cha know?

"Sure, come on over and I have some
tragic things to tell ya'. Oh my, yes...terrible... it was jest awful." 

Takin' a good look at Old Lady Simmons, kinda' sizin' er up, I sez, "Well, I don't mind if we do, if'n you got the time. Me'n Lucy Mae here, we would sure like to set a spell with ya and hear about what all has been agoin' on around here, if ya'd care to."

"Come on in here, inta' the kitchen and we'll have some coffee here at the kitchen table. Wouldja' like a little somethin' to nibble on? I just made some coffee cake in case somebody....er ah... in case I had some company. I always keep a little somethin' fer servin'."

Lucy Mae and I nodded our heads and parked our carts just inside the door, in case we needed to make a quick get-away.

"Do you mind if I let my little dog, Clancy, down on the floor? He's very little and won't bother anything. I have a leash on him, too. I'll just loop it over the back a' this kitchen chair."

She looked at me and Clancy rather askance, but nodded an okay. Getting dessert dishes down from the cabinet, placing them on the table, Ms. Simmons gave us each a scant slice of coffee cake, and poured us a cup of coffee. "What's yer name, if ya' don't mind me askin'. I kinda like to know who I'm jawin' with. Do ya take cream, or sugar? or do you take that sweet'ner stuff? If you do, I don't use none of that substitute stuff. I heard it can cause you to lose your mem'ry and I sure don't want that happ'nin' to me!"

"Well, no", I smiled, "I reckon you wouldn't want that, neither would I. My name is Anna Belle, pleased to meetcha! By the way, have you lived around here for long?"

"Well, Law, yes! I was born in this here house. Raised here, and finished high school, too! Got married and we was happier 'n two bugs in a rug, till he up and run off with some floozy. Left me a note tellin' me I could.... well, never mind what he told me... that's beside the point. I wuz gettin' ready to tell ya about poor Jackie. Oh, my goodness! It wuz awful!"

"Yes?... you say your neighbor was murdered?... What did Jackie have to do with it? Hmm, this is delicious cake, maybe you could give me the recipe for it?"

"Well, now, Jackie has been comin' to see Mz. Clark for a couple a' years now, purty reg'lar and she's been givin' him cookies and coffee, (or so she told me when we wuz talkin') and he'd take some extras with him in a paper poke. But a couple a' weeks ago, he ran outta there like a hant wuz a chasin' him. I wondered about that but Mz. Clark, she wasn't sayin' nuthin' about it. I asked her kinda p'lite like and she just closed her lips tighter'n a drum and said it waren't none a' my bizness. (The nerve of her!) By the way, did you know Mz. Clark?"

"Yes, not well, though. I knew she gave Jackie some cookies when she baked 'em and he really liked 'em. I was comin' to visit with her so I could maybe get some donations for the Mission uptown. I figgered her bein' so good to Jackie, she might give me somethin' for the thrift store. Maybe you got somethin' you'd like to donate?"

"Say," piped up Lucy Mae, "has Mz. Clark lived around here for a while? How'd ya get ta know 'er? Jes' kinda curious. Seems as how you all knew each other purty good."

"Well, land sakes! I reckon we did. She was born there, and went to same high school I did, jest about 12 er 13 years after me. She and her mama used to get in some of the awful'est rows you ever heered. Screamin' and a shoutin' at one another. Her mama callin' her every bad name under the sun. It wuz a sight some a' the thangs I heered coming through them winders n' doors."

"Ya don't say! Well, what happened today over there? You wuz goin' to tell us about it. By the way, you know our first names, what about yours?"

She simpered and tilted her frizzy permed head, "Well, my mama named me Gloria, after the actress Gloria de Haven, because she said I was so gloriously beautiful. Well, I was here in my kitchen a havin' breakfast when I hear this awful lambangin' on her front door, and natcherly I looked out the winder, and seen Jackie standin' there,  jest a whalin' away on the door jamb. When he don't get a answer, he starts goin' around the house, lookin' in the winders. I see him goin' on round the house. Well, I hear the bell ding on my microwave and turn to it. When I look out the winder agin, I don't see him anymore."

"What time was that, Gloria?"

"Oh, I figger it was about 7 or so. I hadn't been up too awful long. I need my beauty sleep, after all. At 60, you can't lose a lot of sleep and still be good-lookin', ya know. Makes wrinkles."

"Hmm hmm. Well, did ya see Jackie any more today? Or was that it?"

"Oh, my goodness, no. A few hours later, after lunch, I'm a watchin' one a' my programs on TV, I hear him a bangin' on the front door agin and this time, he runs around to the back door and as I watch him thru the winder, he yanks the back door open and a little bit later, he's screamin' bloody murder. Me and the neighbors over across the street come runnin; we look in the back door and he's down on the floor over her, with his mouth on hers, like he's kissin' her. Next he's a shakin' her.  Then he jumps up and runs out, a' screamin' like a banshee, runnin' down the street, blood all over his hands and clothes. My goodness, we were unable to stop him, with him bein' so big and all. That portwine birthmark on his neck was jest all lit up like a red light. I never seen nothin' like it in all my borned days! He took off like his shirt tail was on far!"

"Well, what did y'all do then?" Lucy and I asked together.

"We did what any self-respectin' person would do, we went on inside to look, and then we called the po-leece! I can tell you...we never seen nothin' like that! Her a-layin' thar in all that blood, with that kitchen knife on the floor.... OH! It was awful- jest awful! And Jackie gettin' away like he did... Oh, we knew he did it allright and him actin' so innicent like. He had reason to, ya' know."

"OH? Whadda ya' mean... he had reason to? Why?" I couldn't believe my ears... Jackie had a connection to Mz. Clark besides her givin' him cookies? I needed to hear more.

"Well, now, I don't know as I should say, cause it ain't really none a' my bizness, but I've heerd that she coulda' been his mama. They was a time back when she was about a junior in high school that all the trouble started between her and her mama, all that fightin' and so on, and she dropped outta school and kept to the house, not gettin' out 'er nothin'." Gloria lifted her eyebrows archly at me and Lucy, noddin' her head. "Yep! I actually happen ta know it fer a fact! There's more I could tell ya' but, maybe I better not for now."

Boy, howdy! We sure came to the right place to get the skinny on some things we'd been wonderin' about. And.... I knew the old lady had even more information up that flimsy sleeve her arm was a stickin' out of. We'd have to get at it one way or another.  Right now, we had to get on outta there and do some more sleuthin'. It was gettin' on to supper time and we needed to check on Cookie Jack, to boot. I had one more question for her, though.

"What did the po-leece have to say, Gloria? Did you hang around while they wuz investigatin'? Did they let anything slip on what they found?"

"Nah! They ran us out as quick as they got there. But we did decide she'd been cookin'  cause the oven wuz on and the kitchen was really warm. They wuz flour all over, too."


"Well, it's been interestin' talkin' to ya', Gloria! Is it okay if we come over and visit with ya agin' one a these days? Say, what are those wonderful flowers ya' got growin' around the back and sides a your house?" 

"Oh, they're Jasmine bushes. I pick the petals and make a sachet outta them. My dear departed Mama planted them when I was jest a girl. I jest love 'em! You all come back, now, hear? I get kinda' lonesome here, all by myself."

"Bye, now, Gloria, no doubt we'll be seein' you again, right soon," I smiled. "It'd be nice iffen you could write out that recipe for me and we could get them to make it at the Mission for dessert. Maybe we could come back tomorra' and pick it up?"

We left by the back door, like we came in, feeling quite vaingloriously proud of ourselves! We had garnered a lot of information out of the old busybody, dontcha' know? I knew there was a lot more where that came from, too, we jest kinder had to bide our time before we grilled 'er agin. 

So now we knew that Jackie had been born to Mz. Clark back when she wuz in high school and she had got rid a' him. That brought up another question:  How did he get inta' the foster system? What happened after his birth? Was he stolen? Given away? Then what? What else had taken place? We had to find out!

We hurried on down the street. Maybe they hadn't served supper yet at the Mission and we could get an update on Jackie - OOPS! The day was gettin' long in shadows; I still had the little snub-nosed revolver in my possession. I needed to get it to Lieutenant Shannon before the 24 hour limit was up, and tonight was the best time to do it, when he wouldn't maybe be so alert after workin' the Clark case most all day. 

My mind started whirlin' around, tryin' ta' come up with some kinda yarn that would sound innocent ta' him, like... uh.. Oh, yeah (I got distracted , got busy, slipped my mind cause I ain't so young as I used ta' be, now I'm a pore old fergetful lady, and Lucy Mae didn't remind me)... yeah... that should work okay, I reckon maybe. 

Maybe, I could even charm some information outta him when I'm giving the revolver to 'im, kinda' like a present. You know, like here's a gun I found and maybe you could tell me how's poor Jackie? And did he really kill Mz. Clark? My mind was a clickin' and a clackin' like a freight train, goin' a hunderd miles a minute.

"Lucy Mae, we gotta go right now to the station house and talk ta' the Lieutenant and find out about Cookie Jack! We can't even wait till after supper... We could have information that could help free him, that maybe the Looie  don't have. You know, not every body trusts the po-leece like we do. Miz 'I'm so beautiful' Gloria may not have opened up to him like she did to us. Jest cause we share info with the cops don't mean we can't pursue it on our own later, don't cha' know?" 

Arrivin' at the station, we walked up those stone steps that so many criminals and policemen had trod on through the years. Shudderin', I looked at the heavy doors; seein' the traffic was still pretty active comin' in and out of 'em.   It was a forbiddin' place this late in the evenin' and I wasn't none too comfortable bein' there, but me'n Lucy had a job ta do.

We stepped up to the desk, kinda' smilin' like. 

"Whatta ya' want, Ms. Anna Belle? I reckon you'd be wantin' to see the Lieutenant?" (See, they all pretty much knew me around here.) Well, he's busy right now with somethin' and he can't be botherin' with the likes a' you ladies. So you need to get on outta here and be about your business."

"Well, now, I reckon maybe he's gonna be kinda' mad with you when he finds out we had some information about the murder and you ran us off 'stead a' lettin' him know about it. But okay... if that's the way you want it...we'll go...."

"Oh, so you got somethin' important to tell 'im? You can just tell me and I'll pass it on to 'im."

"Nope, I changed my mind. We ain't leavin' till we can talk to him. We'll be a sittin' over there... Oh, my, I feel faint.. We haven't had anythin' to eat for hours. Do you reckon you could get me a drink a' water, er somethin?"

The sergeant helped us over to the chairs and nervously cleared his throat.

"You just wait right here, and I'll be back with a cup of coffee from the break room in just a minute. The Lieutenant would have my head on a platter if I let anything happen to you all."

"Come on, Lucy, let's get on upstairs while he's gone and find the Lieutenant! I know he'll want to talk to us."

We reached the top of the stairs and heard the Looie say, "Now
warn the desk sergeant again about our two little snoops; they'll be trying to get information outta him or somethin'. Call down again, detective, and remind him."

I looked over at Lucy, lifting my finger to my lips, "Jest foller my lead, okay?" I mouthed at her. There went the bobblin' head again.

"I'm tellin' you, Lucy, we should be turnin' that gun I found over to the Lieutenant before long, don't ya' think?" My voice was in a stage whisper, almost loud enough for the sergeant down stairs to hear me.

"Well, I dunno, AnnaBee, we could get inta' trouble fer havin' it on us. We should maybe jest throw it away like we never had it. We can't git inta' trouble fer havin' it if they never know we did," came back her equally loud whisper. 

Lieutenant Shannon stuck his head around the door, "Okay, ladies, the jig is up! What's this about a gun, now?"

We jumped like we had been caught out in a lie, and tried to look guilty, (which really wuzzent so hard, dontcha' know! Ha.)

The detective came out and grabbed each of us by an elbow, and escorted us into the office, seating us like miscreants caught by the principal. 

I reached over into the cart and took Clancy out, putting him on the floor. He was beginning to get warm in amongst all a' that stuff. Clancy looked up at me, thankfully, huffing his breath, his tongue hangin' out.

"There ya' are, boy. You jest rest thar' on the floor whilst we talk to the nice Lieutenant Shannon here." I smiled up at the Looie, tryin' to soften up his attitude toward us a little bit. "Maybe, we could get a little water for 'im? He looks mighty thirsty."

The detective picked up the jangling phone on the desk and spoke, "Yeah, they're up here already. We got 'em. Thanks."

 The Lieutenant pinned us to our chairs with a glare that could strip  the varnish from an old table. "Now, ladies, spill it! What is all this talk about a gun? Where is it? In this cart here? Let's just have us a look..."

"Wait, wait! I'll get it fer ya'. I been takin' real good care of it, so's it don't get any fingerprints on it." 

Grabbin' up a tissue from the desk, I reached into my cart and pulled out the paper bag, and took out the purse as if it were mine. I reached into the purse and removed the gun, gingerly, with the tissue and handed it to the Lieutenant. 

"Oh, thank goodness, I'm rid o' that thang! I never been so glad to get somethin' offa' my hands as I am that old gun! I jest happened to think a while ago, it coulda' maybe been the murder weapon what killed pore old Mz. Clark today. What time did she die, Lieutenant? Wuz it early? Like before seven a' clock?"

His eyebrows telegraphed surprise, then a shuttered response. 

"Now just wait a minute here, Sherlock! Who is supposed to be asking questions? Certainly, not you. Where did the gun come from? Where did you get it? How long have you had it? Greene, take this gun and put it in an evidence bag, and mark it. We'll need to have ballistics check it and, also check it for prints."  Looking back at us, "Were there bullets in it when you came into possession of it?"

"Er, ah, well, jest a minit." Reaching back into the purse with the tissue, I rounded up the four bullets that was in the revolver before Pastor Joe removed them and I handed them over to the detective, still enclosed in the tissue. "That's it, that's all that wuz in the gun." I replaced the purse in my cart as though it really belonged there.

"Spill it, spill it! AnnaBee, where did you find the gun?  Apparently after 7 a.m. this morning, something tells me. Why did you wait so long to bring it to me? What have you sweet little old snoops been up to all day? I better not find out you're in the middle a' this investigation!" 

"Why, Lieutenant! You hurt us with them awful accusin' words! You know we'd never mix inta' yore bizness. If we jest kinda' happened to fall into it, we couldn't help that, now could we? Is poor Cookie Jack in the slammer? Or didja' let 'im go? Couldn't ya at least tell us that much?"

"Well, yeah, I could tell you that we had to let him go; we didn't have enough evidence to hold onto him, but we cautioned him not to leave town."

"Now, where in tha' world would he go? Now, that his ma...'er, I mean. he ain't got no ma, does he? Ain't never knowed her, I reckon. He's as homeless as we are. Say, Lieutenant, wouldja' have any sandwiches, er somethin' ta eat? I'm feelin' faint and if we're goin' ta do any more talkin', we gotta have somethin'." I tried to look like I was desperate fer food. 

He sent the detective out for some sandwiches and I glanced over at the papers on the desk, and asked could he maybe get us some coffee. While he was out, I quickly scanned the paper, and saw it was a file on the case. I was surprised by the word on the line above 'Name'. It was Xenia Clark...Now, where had I seen that name, Xenia, recently? Somewhere.... it'd come to me, I wuz sure. Hmm..time of death.. between 6:30 a.m. and l p.m...Cause of death...Exsanguination by stabbing in chest...Oops! Here came the Looie back. I sat demurely back in the chair, hands folded, as though waiting patiently for the coffee and sandwiches. 

"Here you are, ladies...Sorry, I don't have any cream or sugar, but we take it black and strong around here. Hope you can stand it."

"Thank ye kindly, Lieutenant Shannon; now could I trouble ya fer a little bowl a' water fer Clancy here, him bein' so thirsty 'n all? Jest look at 'im, his little tongue a hangin' out like a old dishrag. See them little sweet eyes a' his a' lookin' up at us, saying 'Where's mine? I'm thirsty, too!' Bless his little heart! Don't that look jest tear atcha heartstrangs?"

"Well, okay, I guess I could get him some water. Now you ladies behave! Don't you dare move outta those chairs!"

While he was gone, (did he actually believe I would stay in that chair?) I sneaked another gander at the file on his desk. Hmm. No fingerprints on the knife, found near the body. Burglary was suspected. Here the Looie came; almost caught me this time.

Bending down with the bowl of water, he patted Clancy on his little brown head. 

Shannon sat on the corner of his desk, effectively cutting the file from my view.  "Now, tell me about the gun, Miss Nancy Drew! Where did you get it and when?" 

"Well, I was eatin' my breakfast in the park this mornin' and like any good citizen, I wadded up the papers and went over to put 'em in the trashcan. I begun a searchin' through the can to find any empty sody pop bottles or cans since I collect 'em, don't cha' know. I spotted this here paper poke with somethin' in it. You can jest imagine my surprise when I looked in it and saw a gun! I almost dropped it. So, a little while later, I found Lucy and then  a while later, we took it to Pastor Joe, and he advised me to turn it in to you before the day was over, n' here we are." I looked up at him expectantly, like I wuz expectin' a pat on my back fer bein' a good citizen.

"That was hours ago! Why did you wait so long? Oh, yeah, you musta got sidetracked, using your investigative talents, right? 

"Well, we did have things ta do first, don't cha know? We ain't so quick gettin' around like we usta' be, us bein' old 'n all that. And then, there wuz Cookie Jack and all that excitement surroundin' him. Ya' gotta admit, my mind ain't exactly been on the right track today with all that a' goin' on."

About then, here come the Detective Sergeant with the sandwiches. Oh, my, them sandwiches looked good enuf ta eat. Jest as I wuz sinkin' my choppers into mine, the phone rang. Lucy and I looked up, all ears. 

Lieutenant Shannon picked up the phone.

"First precinct... Lieut..." He didn't even get the words out before we could all hear a woman, screaming, yelling, screeching, "You've got to send somebody over here! 31 Castle Way....hurry, she's been shot! It's awful! Please, please! Oh, my sister! I just can't believe it! I can't believe she's gone!"

When I heard that, my ears perked up and I, myself, almost jumped out of my skin. I had heard of that address before! Now, I needed to know as much about that as possible, but the day was about over. I would have tossed the sandwich and coffee aside, but I wanted to know a little more, so I really listened close to the rest of the conversation.

"Ma'am, ma'am, calm down now, please! We'll have someone over there within about three minutes. I'm going to send an ambulance and I will come myself to talk to you. Have you touched anything? Have you moved your sister? Do you have someone you can call to be with you? A friend or a relative, maybe? You do? Let me have the name and number and I'll call them for you. A lady who used to be a neighbor of your sister and is a nurse? Oh, you want to call her yourself. Well, maybe it will calm you down to talk to a friend. Where does this friend live? Over on Cedar Avenue? Hmmm. How about that? Are you feeling calmer, now? Just sit down and wait, and I'll have someone there soon."  The Looie nodded to the Detective Sergeant to call the coroner and the rescue squad to send them over to the dead woman's home. He looked at us as though he had forgotten we were there. "You ladies run on now... We're through with you for a while, but I want to talk to you some more. Stay out of trouble...take your sandwiches with you and keep your noses clean. You hear? Clean!!!"

Well, I was plenty ready to go; I had some close readin' ta do and I was energized, even though it was getting time to find me a nice doorway to rest in, if the Mission happened ta be full. "Come on, Lucy Mae, we need ta make tracks! I'm really tired, don't cha know? We'll see you all tamorrow, I reckon! Thanks for the sandwiches an' coffee! It wuz real nice a' ya." 

Pickin' up Clancy and stashin' him in my cart, Lucy and I were on our way with our carts and food, down the steps. We waved at the desk sergeant and smiled. He just waved his hand at us, as if to say, "Get outta here and good riddance!"

"Say, guess who we just met today that lives on Cedar Avenue? It may just be time to get back on over to 'I'm so beautiful' Gloria's house and see what more we could find out! She could still be up. Whadda ya say, Lucy?"


"Well, I'm with you, AnnaBee, you know that! Jes' don't run, my hip is hurtin' somethin' fierce."


As we left, we didn't notice the man standing in the shadows of the station house, who began discreetly trailing us. We found out later that this was
Zebulon, Zeb for short, although we were not aware of it until some time later. 

As we walked along, it was bright enough in the glow of the street lights to scan the little journal, belonging to Gloria Simmons. I decided to read as much as I could before we arrived. I again noticed the scent of Jasmine clinging to the purse. This purse had once belonged to Gloria, as well as the necklace may have, and, I realized, the gun! Were we walking into danger? Nah! She could have a perfectly logical explanation for having owned it, right? Right!

Stopping at the corner, noticing the lack of traffic, thinking I heard footsteps, I listened. Nope, just my vivid imagination, I decided. After all, we were on a well-lit street and it would be two against one...wish I still had that gun... By the time we reached Gloria's home, I pretty well knew that she was not a  very nice old gal. When Xenia was a junior in high school, she had carried on a romance with Gloria's husband and got pregnant. Gloria, by that time being twelve years older than Xenia, was a nurse at the home for unwed mothers. She was present when Jackson (Cookie Jack) was born. She saw the huge Portwine birthmark on Jackie's neck. Gloria made arrangements for the adoption of Jackson by her friend, Geneva, who had been a girlhood friend of Gloria's. Xenia did not ever see Jackson, when he was born, and didn't know who had adopted him.

A couple of years later, Geneva's husband was shot when he was beatin' up on Geneva. She was charged and convicted of justifiable homicide but had to serve eight years in prison. That was when Jackie entered the Child Services Foster care system and virtually disappeared until years later. Gloria knew that Xenia had received a huge amount of money from Geneva in return for Jackie. Geneva's husband had been a well-to-do businessman and tried to please her. 

When Geneva got out of prison, she gussied herself up and set out to find a new husband. She landed a big fish when she met Malcolm Hyde-Smythe. Of course, he knew nothing about Jackson or about her having shot her previous husband. She became a target for blackmail by Gloria.

When Xenia met and married George Clark, she didn't tell him about having had a baby, and so became another target for blackmail by Gloria.

Now, Lucy Mae and I were going to visit Gloria, and see what we could find out about this latest death. I had connected most of the dots, so to speak from what I had heard at the po-leece station and what I had learned from the journal of Gloria's.

Stuffing the journal into my jacket pocket, I accompanied Lucy to the back door of the house, cause we could see the lights a' blazin' through the winders of the kitchen. I knocked and Gloria peeked out through the curtains and saw us. She opened the back door.

"Land sakes! You all back so soon?"

"Well, yeah, we wuz jest curious about somethin' and couldn't get settled fer the night until we talked with you again. I was wantin' to hear some more about Jackie. I hope you don't mind. It's not too late is it?"

I later realized that Gloria had spotted the purse on top of my cart and didn't let on..

"Come on in, then. How about if I make us some hot choc'lit? Does that sound good? You all jest set down thar' at the kitchen table and we'll have us a nice friendly chat with some good choc'lit. Youn's can't beat that any time, can ya? Turning her back to us, she busied herself with ingredients for the hot drink. 

"You're right about that," I sez. "Um, did you hear the si-reens goin' off while ago? We happened to be a few blocks over at the po-leece station awhile ago, and a call came in about a death over on Castle Way... Some woman over thar...it seems like people are jest dyin' right n' left all over the place around our little town, don'tcha know?"

Turning back around to face us, "I see you have a purse settin' thar on top a' your cart. Is it yours? It looks awful familiar-like to me. I used to have one jest like it. Only I can't find mine anymore. Could I just take a look at it?"

"Well, sure, I jest found it today in the park, practic'lly empty. There wasn't any money in it, don'tcha know? There wuz an old envelope with a directory page in it. I couldn't figure out why anybody would have that in it. Does it look like yore's? Boy, that hot choc'lit shure smells good!"

Lucy and I looked at each other, wondering what was going to come next. Would we really get any more information, or was this just a waste of our time? Gloria stood at the stove, stirring the hot choc'lit. 

"Here we go, it's ready to drink. It had to kinda simmer awhile. Now, what didja' want ta' know about Jackie?" She set two cups of the drink on the table before us, and sat down companionably.

"Ain'tcha gonna have some with us?" Lucy Mae inquired, all friendly like.

"Naw, I had some a little bit earlier, but y'all enjoy it, okay?"

"Well, thank ye. It's mighty nice of ye to make it fer us, all special like. Gettin' back ta Jackie, you said earlier that he wuz mighty upset a couple a' weeks ago, when he left Mz. Clark's house. Do you have any idea what had upset him?"

"Hmm, it seems he had jest found out that he wuz her natcheral borned son and she had up and sold him fer a lotta money when she birthed him, without even takin' a gander at him. She jest handed him over, like a piece a' merchandise. Could be I accidentally let it slip one day when I was a chattin' with him? Poor boy!" 

We were sittin' there slurpin' that choc'lit, and talkin' all friendly like in that cozy kitchen and feelin' more comfortable all the time.

"So, do you suppose he decided to kill her for sellin' him? Who paid for him and adopted him, anyway? Do ya know?"

"Wouldja' believe it was my childhood girlfriend, Geneva,  that useta' live next door on the other side of my house? Her husband was a wealthy businessman,and they had moved out of this neighborhood. He had lotsa money, more than I ever did. That rat of a man of mine was jest no good. After I worked and slaved to put him through college, he started a successful biz'ness and then up and ran off with that slut of a secra'terry. Some men are jest no good!"

"Well, I guess you may be right about that, but me'n Lucy Mae had good, honest hardworkin' husbands. They wuz wonderful!" I wuz beginnin' ta feel a little woozy and warm-like. I looked over at Lucy and her eyes wuz kinda' glassy lookin'.

"I reckon I can tell ya'," smiled Gloria, "now that we're all sittin' here kinda' friendly-like, that I had to put poor Xenia out of her misery, her knowing finally where her boy was and that he was none othern' poor stupid Cookie Jack. I couldn't get no more money outta her, since her husband kicked the bucket a couplea' months ago. He never knew;  she was paying me ta' keep my mouth shut. As for Geneva, I can share this with ya', I was a midwife nurse at the Home for Unwed Mothers and arranged for Geneva to get Jackson. That's a long story, but later on in life, she had a secret that she paid me to keep quiet about. When she got tired of payin', she threatened to turn me in fer blackmail, 'n I couldn't have her doin' that...so, yesterday evenin', I went over to her house and closed her mouth goodn' tight fer her. She won't be talkin' any more.. Hmm, from tha looks a' you gals, you won't be either."

I felt myself slippin' into a dark quiet sleep...

A buzzin' in my ears, along with the sound of voices, dragged me from a state of unconsciousness...where was I? Why did the inside of my mouth feel like cotton was stuffed inta' it? Kinda' muzzy like. I moaned, and heard a man's voice. I was confused. I lay there almost like one dead.

"I think she's comin' out of it, nurse," I heard a voice say.

"Nurse? Where in the heck am I?" I croaked, opening my eyes, looking around. "Hey, Lieutenant, what are you doing sitting here next ta' me, and where's Lucy Mae...How'd I get here in this bed? What happened anyway?"

"Well, my little crime-stopper, you've been a busy little bee, as usual, getting into all kinds of trouble, and keeping the department busy pulling you out of it. What do you think happened?"

"Where's my little Clancy, and Lucy Mae? Are they okay?"

"Yeah, Lucy is over here on the other side of me, and one of the boys has Clancy. He's livin' it up down at the station. Lucky for him, Lucretia Borgia didn't give him any chocolate drink, laced with a Mickey. Lucky for you all, that one of my undercover men followed you and was watching her house. He saw her draggin' you out of her house to her car parked out back. What were you thinking? I could just shake you!!"

Oh, my head was bangin' away like a trip-hammer. I was still havin' trouble connectin' ever'thing. Why couldn't I remember? I tried to sit up. There was a needle stuck in my arm, connected to a tube runnin' fluid into me. "What is this? Why is it in here? Whose house? What are ya' talkin' about, Looie?"


"Just take it easy, AnnaBee...You were at Gloria Simmons' home and you and Lucy had just had a cup of hot chocolate laced with knockout drops. You were dead to the world (almost literally) when one of my men caught her dragging you out to her car. He took her into custody, and called 911. They came and brought you all to the hospital. Gloria gave him a song and dance about how you got sick and she was takin' you to the hospital. We found the journal in your jacket pocket, and we know the whole story. Lucy Mae is over here on the other side of me and recovering, too. Now lay back and relax awhile."


"Oh, yeah, yeah, now it's comin' back ta' me...I never figgered she'd catch onta me like she did. Hey, Lucy Mae, are you awake? How are ya', friend? I'm sorry I put cha' in danger like that!"


"That's okay, AnnieBee, we're friends through thick n' thin, ya' know."


"Say, Lieutenant, how'd ya know ta have somebody follerin' us?"


"I had a man outside the station who saw you turning in the opposite direction of where the Mission is located and knew you were probably still on the scent of trouble, so he just kind of ambled along slowly after you. Sure enough, there you went, headlong into the lion's den, thinkin' you could take care of yourselves. Here, have some of this water." He had noticed I was rubbin' my tongue over my dry lips.


"I reckon maybe we owe ya a big thank ye for the rescue, Lieutenant Shannon, and also one ta tha' one that saved us from Gloria."


"If you two could just stay out of trouble for awhile, that would be nice. But, we are here to serve, as our motto says, and I'm happy we could rescue you girls again. You two get some rest tonight and I want to see you tomorrow. They're going to keep you overnight. We still have things to talk about. Goodnight,now."

He left, and I looked over at Lucy Mae and grinned. She looked back and asked, "Wonder what we'll get for breakfast, AnnaBee? I hope it'll be good. It's been a long time since our last one."

"Hmm. Yeah... I wonder about that necklace in the purse and where it came from?"
                                         ------------------------------------------------
The night had seemed very short, because I'd slept mighty good, even with all the noises surroundin' me. Believe it er' not, the nurses comin' in n' out didn't bother me much. Y'know, when yer' used ta' sleepin' in doorways like we wuz', we appreshiated a good bed when we got ta' use one. 

The nurse come in and turned on the light. "Good mornin'," she smiled. "Did you sleep well? I need to get your vital signs and if they are good, I have orders to remove the IV's from your arm. Let me check your arm bands and make you are who the orders say you are. Then you will be getting breakfast and the doctor will be in to check you all,  before you're dismissed."

While Nurse Nancy checked us out, I looked over at Lucy and winked. We sure was gettin' the royal treatment, I thought. Hmm, this was alright. I was anxious to see Clancy and talk to the Lieutenant, but in the meantime, I wuz sure gonna enjoy the good stuff.

A couple a' hours later, we wuz on our way to the station. The day wuz clear and bright; I remarked ta' Lucy about the birds a' singin' and the air smellin' so good. It didn't take no time fer her to agree, 'cause we wuz both so glad to be alive, after last night's scary doin's, don't cha' know?

We sailed inta' the station house, jest a wavin' and smilin' at the guys and gals in thar' like we wuz some a them celebrity tevee stars. They all clapped their hands at us and smiled. 

"Hey, Shannon, your lady detectives are down here," the desk sergeant shouted up the stairway. 

"Where's my little Clancy? Where are ya', boy?"

Here he came, his little ears jest a' flappin' and his tail a' waggin, and a' yippin' like crazy, jumpin' down the stairs and inta'  my arms. Oh, my! I was as glad ta' see him as he wuz ta' see me. He licked my cheeks, catchin' the tears as they run down my face. "Oh, you sweet little Clancy, you! Oh, how I missed ya'!"


Lucy Mae just stood back and wiped 'er eyes, smilin' ta' see us both so happy. The fellers kinda' stood around and hemmed n' hawed. 


The Looie came down and escorted us up to his office so we could talk. "Your carts are sitting over there in the corner. We've been taking good care of them for you. Have a seat, ladies, and let's have us a little chat. I gather they took good care of you at the hospital?"


"Hello, Lieutenant Shannon! Yes, we had good keer over thar'. They wuz really good to us. Thank ye fer gettin' us over thar, an' all. I expect we woulda' been goners if we hadn't a been rescued? Do ye know what Gloria had planned fer us?"


"Oh, yeah...she had planned to take you into your neighborhood by car, and hit you over the head while you were unconscious, leaving you dead. She had some whiskey she was going to pour into your mouth and over your clothes, to make it look like you had got drunk and just fell and hit your heads."


"Why, that old witch!" cried Lucy Mae. "The nerve a' her! She's jest a evil old woman!"


"You're right there," replied the Looie. "You know the gun you turned in, ladies, was registered to her and was used in the shooting over on Castle Way. She had gone over there the day before Xenia Clark was killed, and shot her girlhood friend, Geneva Hyde-Smythe. Gloria was singing like a canary when we got her back to the station in the interrogation room. She couldn't talk fast enough when we showed her the journal. She was bragging about how clever she had been and how she had fooled everyone, until you got to snooping around."


"Didja' find the necklace in the purse? I fin'lly figured out it musta been blackmail payment from either Xenia er Geneva. And the page from the telephone direct'ry had somethin' ta do with some coins 'er somethin' like that, cause coins comes after coffee alphabetical like. I wuz layin' in that nice bed last night a' doin' some thinkin', don'tcha know?"


"Yes, you're right, AnnaBee, as usual. The necklace had been Xenia's last payment, and Gloria had forgotten about it being in the purse. We found a set of coins in Gloria's house when we searched it. She told us that she had had the coins for several weeks as payment from Geneva. She carried her purse with her to Geneva's house with the gun in it, shot Geneva, and then ditched the purse with the journal and the gun in it, getting rid of the evidence, she thought. She thought that when the trash was carried out of the park and put into the city dump with all the other trash, she was home free. She didn't count on two little old ladies finding her out."


Lucy Mae spoke up, "What about Cookie Jack? How are we goin' to tell him that within two days, he lost both a' his mamas? His birth mama, and his adopted mama are both gone now."


Stunned, I looked at her. "You're right, Lucy Mae..but then, he really didn't have 'em to begin with, did he? One of 'em sold him, and the other one lost him to the system. when he was no bigger than a Jack rabbit, so ta speak. I think we oughta see to it that he gets the necklace and the coin collection. Whatta' ya' think, Lieutenant?"


"I think you may be right, AnnaBelle. We did locate a brother of Xenia, who may be interested in helping Jackie, since he would be an uncle to Cookie Jack."


"Say, that's great! Now, if you don't need us anymore, I think we need to get on outta your way so you can do some work. I wanta thank ye ag'in fer savin' our bacon last night! We got some people we want to visit with today. We gotta check in with Pastor Joe and all. Come on, Lucy Mae, my friend, let's make tracks."


We got our carts and I put Clancy on his leash, and we headed down stairs.


"Just one minute, ladies! Keep your noses clean today! I can't keep spending all my time and the time of my men, rescuing you out of trouble. Like you said, we've got work to do! Now get out of here!"


"Gee, do ya reckon he wuz mad at us, AnnaBee?"


"Nah, he was smilin' when he said it."


When we left, we didn't notice the Weasel following us.


The End


2 comments:

Patricia Stoltey said...

Ruby, you've created a couple of real characters in AnnaBee and Lucy Mae. You're a born storyteller.

Grammy said...

Hi, Patricia,
Thank you, I really enjoyed writing about them. :) I'm glad you liked them.