Friday, June 1, 2012

Lucy's Dilemma (Working Title)

It was a Saturday morning, the sun was shining brightly and we were just two little old homeless ladies, happy to be still among the living. The previous day had been stressful to say the least. My good buddy and sidekick, Lucy Mae Wilkins and I, Anna Belle Chasteen, were walkin' along discussin' it. My little Jack Russell terrier, Clancy - well, he was a bee-boppin' along happily beside my cart, jist happy ta' be near me. He'd spent the night in the police station with the night duty cops who were lookin' after him, while me'n Lucy had been in the hospital.

"Wow! AnnaBee," (that's what folks call me, don't cha' know?) "wuzn't it wonderful sleepin' in a real bed again? I know we sleep in the beds in the Mission once in a while, but there in the hospital, it was all so clean-smellin' n' comfy..." 


"Well, yeah, Lucy Mae, but jist consider what we had ta go through ta be there! Wouldja' wanta' be nearly killed ta' experience that ag'in? I reckon not!"

"Still, an' all, it'd be nice if my son, Melvin, would invite me to visit  with him and his family sometimes and I could see my grandkids, wouldn't it? We could be a real fam'ly. It'd be so good jist ta' play with my grandkids, wouldn't it?"


I could see the yearnin' in her face and hear the heartbreak in her voice and it pretty near undid me. I had ta struggle with my composure to keep my voice smooth.

"Yes, my friend, that'd be real nice, all right."

Pulling off my billed Yankee's hat (my husband and I had been staunch Yankee fans from back when they were in New York), I ran my fingers through my short, curly white hair. Looking at my short, cherubic-faced friend, I wondered how we were goin' ta deal with her very real problem. In case ya' don't remember, her son, Melvin, was tryin' ta get her committed and we had ta figure out how ta keep him from doin' it. Instead a' bein' a proper good son, he was a snake in the grass, in my opinion. We needed ta discuss it with someone who could help us with it. 

We were headin' for The Mission up on Jaybird Hill to visit with Pastor Joe Nardocci, who ran the Mission and was kinda our mentor. He was certainly a good fella to talk to and get advice from. 

When we got ta the Mission, we were surprised ta see
*******************************************
a WTLK news van at the Mission parking lot.       (Beginning Part 2)

"Hey, AnnaBee, wonder what that is all about? Do ya' reckon maybe they're doin' a community piece on the Mission and the work it does, or maybe Pastor Joe?"

"I don't know, Lucy, let's go on in and see what they're doin' here."

 We went in to a throng of people standin' around and there was that purty news girl that's on TV doin' the news at noon each weekend. Let's see, what is her name? Oh, yeah...Tanya Jane Harlow. She's a local girl who made it big. Now, wonder why they're all a lookin' at us? 

"Hey, AnnaBee and Lucy Mae," yelled Cookie Jack, "we're famous and Miss Harlow wants to interview us for the noon news! Ain't that excitin'? Oh, I'm so glad you all are okay!" 

He lumbered over and wrapped his huge arms around us, literally jist about squeezin' the stuffin's outta us.

"Yes, we're okay, Jackie. Thank ya' fer that big hug, now if you'll jist put us down, we can breathe a little better."

"Here they are, Mz. Harlow!" shouted Cookie Jack, his round face wreathed in smiles, "Here's our heroes!"

We watched, flabbergasted, as the cameraman and Mz. Harlow approached us, followed by a bunch of our friends at the Mission, including Pastor Joe. Mz. Harlow was cute as a button, with wavy blond hair, a pert nose, full sensuous lips and a curvy body. I could see why so many people watched the noon news! She was a looker, all right! There was somethin' about her eyes, though, a hardness about them that didn't seem ta fit the rest of her. Maybe they had seen too much vileness in human behavior, ya reckon?


Anyhow, she made her way over to us, smilin' and all, and we had ta sit down, we wuz that surprised, don't cha' know? 


"Hello, there, ladies! I hear you two are quite the heroes, and caught a killer for the police! Would you please tell me and our viewers at WTLK about it? First, tell us who you are, please?"


"Well," I began, "my name is Anna Belle Chasteen, but people call me AnnaBee for short, and this here, is my buddy, Lucy Mae Wilkins, and we're jist two homeless ladies who happen to fall into mysteries sometimes. Oh, yeah, and this here is my little dog, Clancy. He goes with me everywhere. Speak to her, little fella!" Clancy yipped his hello.


"Now, I've heard that name Wilkins recently. You wouldn't be related to Melvin Wilkins, Jr. who has just tossed his hat into the ring to run for councilman, would you?" Mz. Harlow queried.


"Well, yes," Lucy Mae announced proudly, "he's my son, don't cha know?"

"Ah!  Now, that is very interesting! I am so pleased to meet you all. Now, tell me some more about your adventures yesterday. I know our public would like to hear all about it."

"Well," I began again, "it all started when I found a purse in a park trash can. It had some stuff in it that kinda led us to the killer," I told her haltingly.


"Oh, come on now, people want to know how that led to the arrest of Gloria Simmons, the killer," urged Mz. Harlow.


I looked over at Lucy Mae and kinda nudged her to add some to the story. 


"We-l-l," she said, slowly, "there wuz a gun and a diary and a necklace in the pocketbook that AnnaBee found, and the diary had lotsa clues in it about Gloria Simmons." She looked at me then, and I picked up on the story.
 ************************************
(Beginning Part 3)
"Well, it was like this...see, there's three houses in a row, and in each house there lived a girl. Two of 'em was born in about the same year, and the third was born about twelve or thirteen years later. The two that was the same age were named Geneva and Gloria. The other girl was named Xenia. (Don't ask me where the mama got that outlandish name, cause I sure don't have any idea!)  Geneva, when she grew up, she married a rich fella and moved away to a rich part a' town. Gloria kept in touch with her, cause I reckon she figgered she could put the touch on her for money if she ever needed any."

"Then what happened?" Tanya Jane asked, when I stopped for a breath. She always got in as many words in an interview as she could so that she kept in the picture, don't cha' know? 

"Well, then by that time, little Xenia was growin' up, and havin' fights with her mama about stayin' out late, and then she come up bein' "with child". It so happened that Gloria, next door, had become a nurse and so she was there when the baby was born. It was a boy, and they named him Jackson." I pointed to Cookie Jack.

Cookie Jack, who had been listening avidly to my story, yelled, "That was me, Miss Harlan! That was me!" Then he hung his head and said, "Miz Clark sold me to Geneva for a lotta money. She didn't want me." The tears streamed down his face.

That near about broke my heart for the poor young man, but I tried to swallow the knot in my throat, to continue my story.

"Yes, Jackie, but Geneva really wanted you, you know, or she wouldn't a' paid a bunch a' money for you." Jackie looked up and smiled, the sun shinin' thru his tears.

"That is right, ain't it?" he answered. "She did want me, but she lost me, about four years later, when the man she was married to beat her up and she shot him to keep him from beatin' on me."

"You're right, Jackie...then you got put into the foster system, and when she got out of prison, she couldn't find you. So she gussied herself up and found another rich husband, who didn't know about you or her prison sentence, so she was ripe for blackmail by Gloria. Xenia had been bein' blackmailed for some time by Gloria, for sellin' Jackie on the black market and not tellin' the man she later married. Both Xenia and Geneva were threat'nin' to turn Gloria in to the police. We, Lucy Mae and me, jist happened to fall into the mix when I found all that stuff. The rest will have to come out in the trial, don't cha' know?"

"Isn't it true that you two almost died yesterday when Gloria drugged you both, Mrs. Chasteen, Mrs. Wilkins?" queried the newswoman.

"Well, yes, and we wuz rescued by some policeman; don't know yet who he wuz, but we're sure grateful to him and to Lieutenant Shannon for the rescue, don't cha' know?"

Tanya Jane Harlow turned once more to Cookie Jack. "Tell me, sir, I hear people calling you 'Cookie Jack'...how did you get that name? It is so unusual."

"Well, I reckon maybe it's cause I like cookies and didn't never get any when I wuz a little boy." He smiled down at her. "Do you happen to have any cookies on ya?"

"No," she replied sweetly, "but I'll see that you get some. I hear that you discovered your mother's body. It must have been very traumatic for you." 

(I could see she was milkin' this story for all she could get from it, don't cha' know?)

"Yes, ma'am, it was awful...I don't think I can ever fergit it...I couldn't sleep last night. I think I'm gonna be afraid ta go ta sleep at night, cause I still can see her a-layin' there in all that blood. I tried to help her breathe like they show on TV, but she was already dead." Jackie had to sit down and his face had turned white.

She could see she wasn't goin' to get any more from that source, so she said, "There you have it, folks. A story of blackmail, murder, and mayhem. This is Tanya Jane Harlow coming live to you from The Mission on Jaybird Hill." The cameraman turned off his camera and they were gone, leaving us all feelin' like we'd been flattened by a runaway freight train. 

"Well, that wuz some experience, wuzn't it?" Lucy Mae asked me. We looked over at Jackie... 
 ************************************ 
(Beginning Part 4)
 My heart was achin' for him, thinkin' about how public his pain and embarrassment had become. I walked over to him and put my arms around his massive shoulders.

"Let's go inta' Pastor Joe's office and talk, Jackie...Okay?"

He nodded his head and I looked over and saw Pastor Joe headed our way...boy, was I happy to see him. I motioned towards his office and he understood without my sayin' anything. He accompanied me and Lucy Mae as we guided Jackie in there.

Lucy Mae brought our folding carts as she walked with us, and Clancy trotted along beside us. When you are a street person, you never leave your cart unguarded, don't cha' know?

When the five of us got into Pastor Joe's office, we all sat down and kinda' looked at each other. I hoped the Pastor would kinda' open up  the meetin'. He said, "Let's have a word of prayer before we begin this, okay?"

We each bowed our heads and listened with our hearts.

"Heavenly Father, we have a hurting soul here, and we're coming to you to help us deal with it as only You can. Help us to offer comfort to Jackie and help him to see that You are still in control. Help him to know that You are always here for him and for us. We thank you, Father, for your love and watch care over us. Amen."


I felt more encouraged already and when I looked up, I saw Jackie smilin' at us.


"Now, Jackie, we need to talk about what has happened in the last couple of days. We know that Gloria told you about your mother, Xenia, giving you up for adoption. We need to explain something to you about conditions that existed during that time period, don't we, Pastor Joe?" I said gently to Jackie.


"Yes, Jackie," continued Pastor Joe, "you see, back then it was a matter of shame for a young unmarried woman to have a baby. So they went to live in a home for unwed mothers until the baby was born. It seems that Gloria was involved in a black market for babies scam, and she received money along with Xenia. Gloria worked for a crooked lawyer, who also got a huge fee. Your birth mother, Xenia, never got a chance to see or to hold you even. Her mother forced her to give you up. Xenia never wanted to give you away. She had no choice."


"Really? She really wanted me? For sure?"


"Oh, yes, she did for sure. I'm sure she must have been surprised when you came and asked her about it. I hear you all had an argument after Gloria told you that Xenia was your mother," I continued. 


"Yes, when Gloria told me that, she said that my mom never wanted me, and was glad to get rid of me when I was born. So when I went next door to see my mom, she acted surprised to hear me say she was my mother. She said it couldn't be true, she couldn't believe it. I just ran outta there. After I had time to think about it, I went back in a couple a' days. I jist couldn't get it outta my mind. We agreed to talk about it some time soon. We started gettin' caught up on what had happened in the years since she let me go. I still couldn't forget she had sold me, though."


Pastor Joe touched Jackie on his shoulder and said, "Son, I know it is going to be hard for you to deal with all the questions this has brought up, but we are here for you, and we'll help you all we can."


"Yes, Jackie, and I have some news for you that we are going to follow up on. You may not know it, but Xenia has a brother who would be your uncle. We are going to do some research to see if we can locate him for you. How would that be? We may not be able to find him, but we are going to try. Okay?" I was trying to be very upbeat for Jackie's sake.


Jackie looked over at us and gave us a smile that shone like a thousand watts. Little did we know what that promise was going to exact from each of us. 

*********************************** 
(Beginning Part 5)
Later that afternoon, we watched the WTLK news program and saw ourselves bein' interviewed. I must say it was kinda' excitin', don't cha' know? 

We also saw Melvin Wilkins bein' interviewed.  It followed almost on the heels of our interview. Tanya Jane made the interview quite interestin', what with askin' him about his mama bein' homeless and how come. He really looked uncomfortable talkin' about it, too. He told her that it was just a temporary thing and how he had been lookin' for her. 

"She had been acting kind of strange and  just took off one day, and I looked everywhere for her. I even hired a private detective to look for her. She just disappeared. I am so glad you found her for me. I am certainly going to rectify that situation." 

"So, how long has she been missing, Mr. Wilkins?"


"Er..uh...a few months...er.. a couple of years, I guess."


"You guess? Isn't that a little nebulous...you don't really remember, do you? How do you think this is going to affect your candidacy for councilman?" Not giving him a chance to answer that question, she went on. "Well, thank you for clearing that up for us, Mr. Wilkins! We will be waiting to see how that turns out. We hope to see your family reunited soon."


"Hmmmp. Yes, yes! Certainly. By all means! Be sure and vote for me, folks! Remember, a vote for me is a vote for good government!"


"Phoney Baloney!" I thought. "Well, Mz. Tanya Jane sure threw the fat into the fire, didn't she? Wonder what Melvin will do now? Hmm."

We decided to go visit the police station and see what Lieutenant Shannon could tell us about Jackie's uncle. He had said that there was a brother left behind by Xenia. She had not had any more children after Jackie and there was no idea who his father had been. So, me 'n Lucy Mae 'n Jackie headed down there, kinda' talkin' amongst ourselves as we did.  


*******************************   
(Beginning Part 6)
"Say, Jackie, when you 'uz goin' ta' school, was there anything in pa'tic'lar that you 'uz int'rested in? Stuff that you enjoyed learnin'?" I asked him. Although I had been acquainted with Jackie for some time, I didn't know much about him personally. I had noticed that he sometimes had grimy hands.

"Well, AnnieBee, I did kinda like to fool around with motors 'n stuff. You know, I liked auto work and we fixed cars up in the shop."

"Now, that's right interestin', Jackie. Are you any good at it?"

Jackie smiled at us. "My shop teacher said I wuz a genius at it. We wuz always busy fixin' 'em up for the teachers. They got to where they asked for me to do the fixin'. I reckon maybe that wuz the best fun I ever had goin' ta school. Sometimes, I wander over ta the Jones' Body Shop and do a little bit a' fiddlin' with motors. He lets me do that when he is real busy and has a lot ta' do."

"Hmmmm," I thought, "someone has been takin' advantage of our Jackie, and I'll bet they're not givin' him anything fer his work."

I looked up into Jackie's smiling face and asked, "Does Mr. Jones ever give you any money fer workin' on his cars? Or any food, or anything?"

"Well, he does give me some cookies sometimes, or he'll buy me a burger 'n fries. But I do it jist cause I like workin' on 'em. And it gives me somethin' ta do."

"I think maybe we can do somethin' about that," I think to myself. I hadn't really been payin' enough attention to my friend. Yeah, I volunteer a day every other week to workin' at the hospital, and I do other volunteer work associated with tha' Mission, but I hadn't been doin' my friend, Jackie, much good. That was goin' ta change, and soon. Jist cause I'm homeless don't mean I can't be a useful citizen, don't cha' know? I wuz a volunteer at the hospital fer years while my Billy wuz alive, and I took care a' him when he wuz sick. I reckon I know my way around carin' for the sick. 

I looked up at Jackie and said, "How would ya' like ta get some money fer the work ya' been doin' fer Mr. Jones? Maybe we can get him ta pay ya' somethin' fer workin' on the motors. Whatta' ya' say, Jackie? It won't hurt ta' try, will it?"


Jackie kinda frowned like he didn't think it would be a good idea to ask for money for doing something he liked doing. 


"Hmm. I dunno, AnnieBee. Do ya' think it'd be okay to do that? He might get mad and not let me work on 'em anymore."


"Well, don't worry about it, Jackie. We'll think on it some, and I'll do a little askin' around and see if it'd be okay. All right?"


"Sure, AnnieBee. Oh, look, there's the Police Station."

**************************************
 (Beginning Part 7)
"Well, let's go on in then, and see what we can find out about your uncle, Jackie. I'm right anxious to hear what Lieutenant Shannon has discovered for us."

We walked into the station, three homeless people who had faith in the justice system in our little town, 'cause we knew the ones who were in charge of it. I looked at my two friends, Lucy Mae and Jackie. Lucy Mae was a round-cheeked, youngish-looking 62 year old woman who had naturally curly hair that just kinda seemed to spring outta her head like little coils. Lucky woman never had ta' do anything with her hair except wash and let it dry. It was a bit frizzy sometimes, too. She walked with a hitch in her git-along, cause of her hip that hurt her sometimes. 

As you know, Jackie was tall, kinda stoop shouldered and had brown hair that kinda blew ever which a-way when he didn't have a ball cap on. His face was like an open book, and you almost always knew jist by lookin' at him what he was a thinkin'. He was a huge young man of about thirty years, and very naive. Jackie had a heart as big as the outdoors, and was the epitome of kindness.

We walked into the station house and the desk sergeant took one look at us and said, "Well, well, here comes trouble. It's the town celebrities! What are you three up to today? No good, I'll bet! Ha. You here to see Lieutenant Shannon, I guess? Well, he's upstairs in his office."

Going on up the steps, we kinda took our time. We weren't quite sure what we were gonna find out and what it would bring into our lives, don't cha' know? I decided to stop off in the Ladies Room so I asked Lucy if she needed a break, too. 

"No," she replied, "but I could take a rest on one a' these here chairs in the hallway. My hip is kinda' hurtin' me, after all that walkin'. I'll watch your cart and Clancy here fer ye."

I went into the rest room and after I used the facilities, I went over to the basin and, washing my hands, I looked into the mirror. The freckled skinny face looking back at me, seemed to be asking, "what in the heck are we getting into here, old woman? You've never been a mama, and now it looks like you're takin' on a bigger bite than you've ever chewed before. You gettin' ready to get that young man a job. He don't know anything about managin' money. You gonna manage it for him or teach him how? What are you thinkin'???"

I wiped my face with the wet paper towel, straightened up my Yankee's cap on my head, squared my skinny shoulders, and marched myself right outta there, and says to myself, "Gird your self up and let's get to it."

"Hey, guys, let's go on in and talk to the Lieutenant, okay?" 

***************************** 
(Beginning Part 8)

"Hey, Lieutenant! How's crime doin' today? Is it takin' a holiday or is it keepin' ya' busy?" I inquired in a friendly way. "We came to ask ya' if ya' found out anything about Jackie's uncle."

"Like I have a lot of time to be doing any research on that, Nancy Drew and George!" Lieutenant Shannon looked over at us with a twinkle in his eyes. (I could get lost in those big brown eyes of his. That thick head of auburn hair of his, with a cowlick that continually stuck up in the crown of his head, was not bad to look at either.)

"Ah, come on, Lieutenant, ya' know ya' promised us...and I know ya' got a lot ta' do, but ya' got men that can find out stuff on tha' internet n' all that, don't cha?"

"Okay, okay. But before we get into that, I need to tell you that you are all going to have to testify when the trial for Gloria Simmons comes up, somewhere down the road. You will also have to testify before the grand jury and probably some time this next week. We are still gathering evidence since the murders happened only a couple of days ago. Mrs. Simmons lawyered up within a couple of hours after we arrested her last night. We still have her confession, but she's trying to say we bullied her. Here are the Subpoenas for each of you."

Well, now, boy howdy! You coulda knocked me over with a feather when he handed us those subpoenas! I began kinda shakin' all over. I had never been in court a' any kind, and now I was gonna be standin' there swearin' ta' tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothin' but the truth! I looked over at Lucy Mae, and her eyes was as big as the proverbial saucers. Then I looked up at Jackie and saw a confused look on his features.

"Jackie, boy, that jist means that you gotta go inta' a room and tell a bunch a' people what you know fer sure about what happened at Mz. Clark's house. Don't worry, we'll be out in tha' hallway when ya' go in to tell 'em," I tried to reassure him. " 'Cause we'll be goin' in, too, ta tell 'em what we know. Don't worry, now. It'll be okay."


"Okay, AnnieBee, if you say so."

"Say, Lieutenant, that reminds me, I'd like to meet the policeman who rescued me 'n' Lucy Mae so's I can thank him. He sure did save our bacon, and that's a fact, don't cha' know?"

"Oh, I'm sorry, Anna Belle, but he's on duty right now and he's one of my undercover cops, so I can't give out that information to you. Now, here's the name of Jackie's uncle. His name is Jones, and he owns a body shop out on the west end of town. His first name is Henry but everyone calls him "Hank". He had a business partner until about six months ago. His partner, Will Clark, died suddenly of heart failure. Yes, that is no co-incidence. Will was Xenia's husband and the two of them went into business about thirty years ago. That's about all I can tell you right now. The DA will be in touch with you all about when to appear. We'll contact you through Pastor Joe, okay?"

Well, the hits just kept on coming, didn't they? Jackie had been seein' his uncle? Working for him? Did the uncle know Jackie was his nephew? This needed some investigatin', for sure. We had lots to do! 

***********************************************
 (Day Nine)
Lucy Mae and I looked at Cookie Jack to see how he was takin' this latest news. He had a big smile on his face, and the portwine stain on his neck was all lit up, too. He was excited - that was for sure. We could tell he was nervous about going to see his Uncle Hank. 


"Tell  ya what, Jackie, why don't we go have some lunch at the Mission and kinda regroup and talk about how we're goin' to talk with your uncle. It's important to approach him the right way without jist a bustin' in and sayin', 'Hey, didja' know you're my uncle?'" I suggested to him. 


"Okay, AnnieBee, if you think that's the right thing ta do; I want ta do this good and I'm kinda not really ready to see  him yet. I know you'll help me do it best. Do ya think he'll like knowin' I'm his nephew? I know I'm not real smart...maybe he'll think I'm not good enough to claim him as my uncle. He might not want people ta know he's my uncle." 

Jackie wrung his huge hands nervously; I could see they were a shakin' like an aspen leaf in the wind. Poor fellow! I really felt for him, and I vowed to myself that I would be sure to do my best for him.


The three of us headed back towards the Mission to have some hot lunch, and talk over our strategy for meeting Jackie's Uncle Hank Jones. We also had to talk to a lawyer about Lucy Mae's problem with her son, Melvin. Maybe we could do both this afternoon. Might as well strike while the iron was hot, and Lucy's problem sure was heatin' up, what with Melvin runnin' for city councilman, and bein' in the public eye, don't cha know? No tellin' what he might decide to do!


Then I realized that we had to pass the storefront businesses down on Main Street on our way to the Mission. The lawyer's office that I was thinkin' of takin' Lucy Mae to was in one of them. I thought we could scout it out and see if he was still in business. I knew he sometimes was in on a Saturday. We didn't have one of them cell phones to call him. So we made a beeline for his office. It had been awhile since I had talked to him; something like a couple a' years or so is what it had been. 


Imagine my surprise when we got there and saw a different name on the office window. It was a woman's name. You coulda knocked me over with a feather. The sign on the door said "Open".

"Come on in," I told my two friends. "I gotta see what happened to the lawyer that use ta' be here. I am surprised to see a lawyer in on a Saturday, too."


Well, we went in and stood before a young woman sitting behind a desk, talkin' on the phone. "Yes sir. I know, sir. No, he passed away a few weeks ago. He had retired and I bought his law business. Yes, sir, I am qualified. Sorry you feel that way, sir. If you would just give me a chance to discuss your problem with you...Oh, okay... Goodbye, then." 

She looked up at the three of us, and I could see the annoyance and anger on her lovely face. Her olive skin was flushed, and her green eyes were shining with unshed tears. She smoothed the coiled bun at the nape of her neck, tucking in a stray blond hair. To be honest, she didn't look old enough to be lawyerin'.


"What can I do for you?" she inquired. I could tell she was taking in our appearance. We were definitely 'street people' with no money between the three of us; it was clear we didn't even have enough to even buy a lunch, much less the funds needed to hire an attorney. 

**********************************************
(Day Ten)
Well, as spokesman for our little group, I held out my hand and said, "Hello, ma'am. My name is Anna Belle Chasteen. We were jist a lookin' for Mr. Gambini, who used to be the lawyer who used this office. It seems like from your conversation on the phone that he has gone on to his reward? I'm right sorry to hear that, cause we were hopin' he could be of help to us. Besides the fact that he was a good old soul, don't cha know? He was a friend to me and my husband for a lot of years. Since I don't get a newspaper real often, I reckon maybe I missed seein' his obituary. Yes, ma'am, we'd like to talk to ya about my friend here, Lucy Mae Wilkins. This here young man is named Jackson."

The young woman looked at me somewhat askance, like maybe I had two heads, cause here I was, obviously of the homeless persuasion, asking her to help us in a legal matter. Now I know that lawyers don't give out advice fer just a handshake, but I was hopin' she might do some pro bono work.  (That's work for free and get some good will in return and maybe get other work as a result, don't cha know.) 

She smiled at us and reached out her hand. (That was a good sign, I thought to myself.) "Hello, I'm Sherri Gambini. He was my father, and he often spoke of you, AnnaBee. I bought his business when he retired due to a stroke about six months ago. He was a hard worker and loyal to his clients. Of course, I will do what I can for your friend, Lucy Mae. What can I help you with, Mz. Wilkins?"

"Well, ya see, it's my son, Melvin. He's been talkin' about havin' me declared incompetent, cause he's embarrassed about me livin' on the streets. He wants ta put me in some kinda place so's I ain't a reminder of how he came up. But see, me and my husband worked hard to put Melvin through law school. I know he didn't have any extras, but he was able to get a good education due to our scrimpin' and savin' to help him. I jist want the freedom ta live my life the way I wanta. He's got a bunch a' high-falutin' friends and he says it's my fault he can't climb the ladder a' success, cause I'm standin' in his way by livin' like I do. What can I do, Mz. Gambini? I don't have no money to get a good lawyer to fight Melvin."

Mz. Gambini looked at us, and a look of absolute enlightenment crossed her face. "You are Melvin Wilkins' mother? The man who has already caused me and other business people along Main Street all kinds of problems? Bless your heart, ma'am. Of course, I'll help you. There is somewhere else I need to be in a few minutes, but please, if you can come back on Monday afternoon around 3 p.m., we will have a nice long talk and see what we can do to stop your son. You have come to the right place." 

She turned to me and said, "I'm so pleased to meet you at last, AnnaBee, my dad thought the world of you and your husband. Thank you for being his friend for so many years. Jackson, it is very nice to meet you and Lucy Mae, as well. Now, I really have to go and I must close the office for the weekend. Here is my business card; call me if you can't keep the appointment." 

She shook our hands and we all left her office. 

***********************************
Day Eleven

It was during lunch that we decided what our approach would be to visit with Jackie's uncle Hank. We would leave our carts with Pastor Joe and take little Clancy along with us on a leash. We were just three very nice people out for a walk with our doggy. It was a pretty good walk to the outskirts of town and the only transportation we had was by "shank's mare". In case you've never heard that expression it means using our legs to walk where to you need to get to. We all three had pretty strong legs since we do a lot of walking, don't cha know?

So, here we were, laughing and talking, finally arriving at the Jones' Body Shop. We looked up at the sign over the door. Jackie said, "Hey, that's a new sign up there! It says 'Jones and Sons Body Shop'. The old one jist said 'Jones Body Shop'."

We opened the door and walked in. Seated behind the desk sat a great big fella who looked a lot like Cookie Jack, no kiddin'! When he saw us, he started grinnin' at us and jumped up and lumbered over to Jackie and gave him a slap on the back like a long-lost buddy. 

"Jackie Boy, where ya' been, anyways?  I've missed ya'. I saw you on the television this mornin' and boy, was I surprised! You're Xenia's boy, and all this time I never knowed it! I shoulda' knew you wuz kin ta' me! Look at cha'! Big old boy like yer uncle Hank! Here ya been workin' fer me all this time and I never woulda guessed it!"

Hank walked over to the door of the shop and hollered real loud, "Hey! Hey, Mickey! Hey, Mike! Come on in here, boys, and meet yer cousin, Jackie!" 

Hank looked at us and said, "They've been away for awhile and jist got back inta' town a week or so ago. They are here to stay, now, I reckon."


Well, when I got my first look at them, I knew trouble when I saw it, and it was Mickey and Mike. Twins, from the looks of 'em. They was a pair of big guys that looked like they ate nails fer breakfast. Uh Oh! Musta took after their pa, fer sure. 


"Now, lookie here, Mike! If it ain't little Jackie, what we knew in high school. Duh! How's tricks, Jackie? Had any cookies lately? Haw! Haw!" Mickey was a laughin' and swingin' a wrench around kinda like a weapon. I noticed that Mike didn't have any comment; he jist kinda smiled.


"Oh, my!" I thought. "Not a good thing! We need to get outta here, and soon!" Clancy must have agreed with me, because I could hear him growlin' in his throat. I looked down and saw the hackles a raisin' up on his neck hair.


Jackie was already backin' up towards the doorway. 


Hank said, "Now, boys, that's no way to treat yer cousin! You all jist behave now. Get back out there and get ta' work on them cars. We got lotsa work to get out."


Turnin' to us, he was apologetic, sayin' as how they was jist a funnin' with Jackie, and how they wuz really good boys at heart. 


"Jackie, my boy, it seems you got a raw deal when it came to fam'ly. I'm real sorry about that. Xenia never was real smart when it came to doin' the right thing. I'll bet her husband she married a year after she had you woulda' accepted you, cause he was a real good guy. Ya know, he was in business with me till he passed away from a heart attack about six months ago. He was my partner and put up part of the money fer the shop. I really miss him."


I stood there reflectin' on what Hank was a' sayin' and he seemed like a nice enough fella. But them two sons a' his, now they was somethin' else, fer sure! They was trouble with a capital T! Jackie best stay away from them. 


We said as how we needed to be going and all. Hank patted Jackie on the shoulder again and told him to come back any time and he would let him work on some motors for him. That brought to mind one of the things I was goin' to mention to Hank.


"Say, Mr. Jones, how about when Jackie does work for ya, are ya goin' to pay him a wage for it? After all, he is quite skilled at workin' on engines, ain't he? I hear there's another shop on the other side a' town that he might could get work at. Why don't cha think about it? We can talk about it, if he decides he wants ta do some work for ya. Okay?"


"Hmm. I'll think about it. Nice to see you again, Jackie Boy! Welcome to the fam'ly."

We got outta there and were on our way back towards the Mission. Boy! We sure had a lot ta talk about, don't cha' know? 

**********************************

 (Day Twelve)
I didn't much like the attitude of those "boys" of Hank Jones, that was for sure! The way they treated Jackie sure didn't suit me. I wondered about their treatment of him in high school, so I asked Jackie about them.

"They didn't act too good around me, AnnieBee. They wuz always makin' fun a' me, and jabbin' me with whatever they had in their hands.  All we had together was shop class. One time they held me down and acted like they wuz gonna close the hood of a car on my  head. I coulda took on one a' them, but not both of 'em. I wuz always afraid for my life when I went to class. They missed a lot of times comin' ta school, though. Those wuz the good days." Jackie smiled at Lucy and me. "I heard they got inta trouble for holdin' up a jewelry store with a gun."

"Well, that don't surprise me none!" quipped Lucy Mae. "They looked like thugs ta' me the minute they come a sashayin' through that shop door."

I lifted my eyebrows. "Ha! I'll bet that's where they've been away to for about twelve years! I'll bet they got sent up for armed robbery. No tellin' what kinda mischief they had got into before that. It probably wasn't their first offense, so they got twelve years fer it. No sirree, Jackie, you ain't needin' to go back while them boys are around. They ain't nothin' but trouble!"

I smiled down at Clancy. "I may be able ta find a bone fer you when we get back ta the Mission, boy. You knew them twins wuz trouble, didn't cha' boy? Yes, you did! I heard that growl you wuz givin' 'em. You are a good boy!" I leaned over and picked up Clancy, givin' him a hug. Then I set him back down, cause he's a heavy little scudder, don't cha' know?

Well, we finally got back and we had another surprise a waitin' fer us.  

**************************************
 (Day Thirteen)
What was the surprise waiting for us, you ask? Well, I got to meet Lucy Mae's daughter-in-law, Marci Wilkins. She was waitin' for us in Pastor Joe's office, all proper-like, kinda like a queen waitin' fer her subjects, don't cha know? In all the time I had known Lucy Mae, I had never met the little lady named Marci, so's I took a good gander at her. 

Marci was a brassy blonde, about five foot four, with a pouty face that was wearin' a smile that was kinda like a mule a' eatin' sawbriers, if ya' get my drift. She didn't look very trustworthy ta' me. Her teeth looked like little sharp pearls, that could eat 'cha up, if ya' got too close to 'em. Her lips surrounded them little teeth with a slash of carmine. Oh, yeah, from the looks of her, Marci was a match for Melvin.

"Hello, Mother Wilkins," she smiled. "It is so good to see you again. I'm so glad we found you! It was wonderful to see you alive on TV... we didn't know what had happened to you. The children have missed you since you just up and disappeared on us. They keep asking where you were. Bless their little hearts!" She wrapped her arms around Lucy Mae like she was a long-lost friend.

You coulda' knocked me over with a feather when I heard all the garbage that was coming through those pearly little choppers a' hers. Yep... I couldn't wait to hear what was going to come out next... and it did. 

"Now, we want you to come and visit us for awhile. Would you, please?"

Well, now, Lucy Mae just kinda looked like she had been run over by a steam roller, she was that flabbergasted. She turned and looked at me like - "Can you believe that?" I just looked back at her and lifted my eyebrows in amazement. 

"And you must be Anna Belle! I am so pleased to meet you! I'm Marci Wilkins, Mother Wilkins' daughter-in-law. How wonderful to have such a good friend as you have been to her." Marci's lips were drippin' honey so fast, I felt like I needed a piece a' bread to catch it all.

"Yes, it is certainly a surprise to be meetin' you, too. I never dreamed I would have the opportunity to do so," I replied smoothly. "It must have been shocking for you to see us on TV that way, knowin' we had come so close ta' bein' killed, and all."

"Oh, my, yes, yes! It was! I just couldn't believe my poor little eyes when I heard your frightful story. Bless your hearts! I'm so happy you are both okay!" She smiled again at "Mother Wilkins".
***************************************
(Day Fourteen)
I was kinda wonderin' where this whole scene was goin' ta' take us, the surprise visit and all, when Marci up and said, "I'd like to take you shoppin' and get you some nice clothes. You can leave that old cart here with your friend, Anna Lee, cause you won't be needin' it after you come home with me." She kinda dismissed me with a wave of her hand, as though I was some flotsam in a dirty river. 

Lucy Mae looked at me with a "What do I do now?" look of puzzlement on her face, mixed in with a tinge of hope that things were on the mend between her and her son. Could it possibly be that he had had second thoughts about his mama? Should she go with Marci? Could she trust Marci and Melvin? After all, she had been hoping for reconciliation with her son. I knew she wanted to see her grandkids, too. This could be her chance. I could see all those things flittin' through her thoughts, cause it was all reflected in her expressions.

I knew that I couldn't stand between her gettin' back together with her family. She had to have that chance. I went over and put my arms around her and told her that it was up to her, what she wanted to do. (Of course, I couldn't trust that little witch standin' beside her, invitin' her to come and visit them; she'd already forgotten my name, but that didn't matter. I'd certainly keep an open mind, though.)

Lucy smiled tremulously at me, hopin' that things were goin' ta' turn out good fer her. Then she looked at Marci, and nodded. 

"You'll take good care of my stuff fer me, won't ya', AnnaBee? Cause I'm jest gonna go fer a visit, and see my fam'ly fer awhile. It'll be fun ta go shoppin' ag'in. Can you go with us, maybe, while we go shoppin', an' help me pick out some clothes?"

"Oh, no," spoke up Marci, "we need to do this by ourselves, because we have to fit so much into the rest of the day. I'm sorry, Mother Wilkins, we just can't take your friend with us. I'm sure you understand, don't you?"

"Of course, I'll take good care of your stuff for ya; I'll be seein' you soon, when you get back from your visit with your fam'ly. I'll walk ya all outside."

Just as soon as we went outside, I saw the flash of a camera. Someone was takin' a picture of Marci and Lucy Mae. What was that all about? 
******************************
 (Day Fifteen)
There was a man I hadn't seen before, standin' and takin' pictures of Marci with her arm around Lucy Mae. There was also a Cadillac  pullin' up from around the corner. Just what was a goin' on, anyhow? A driver got out and was helpin' Lucy Mae and Marci inta' the back seat. They drove off, and that was the last I saw of my good friend that day. 

Lookin' down at Clancy, I was feelin' kinda empty inside, wonderin' what my good friend was lettin' herself in for. Now what?  I was  hopin' that only good things was in store fer her, but fearful that some kinda scam was a bein' pulled on her, instead. I couldn't do anything fer her now, exceptin' ta pray fer her, and I was sure goin' ta do that. In fact, I was already a' saying some prayers on her behalf. She was sure goin' ta need all she could get right now. I said, "Come on, Clancy, let's go inside and talk ta Pastor Joe."


It was Saturday night, and the Mission was full a' people. Rain was predicted, and everyone was lookin' fer a dry place ta sleep, me included. Unfortunately, by the time I started lookin', all the beds were taken, and I wasn't in a sleepin' mood anyways. I was still a frettin' over Lucy Mae, wonderin' about the fix I thought she was in. I couldn't have slept, anyways, so Clancy n' me took us a little walk around town. 


I thought I heard footsteps behind us, but when I turned around to see, there was nobody that I could spot, so I continued on. There was a full moon overhead, but the clouds kept driftin' over it, and the wind was a blowin' pretty good. Since it was late May, it was kinda' warm, so I was comfortable. 


Well, Clancy and me, we musta' walked around fer about an hour, goin' no place in particular, ya' know, jist kinda wanderin' around. Finally, I was so wore out that I couldn't walk anymore and Clancy looked up at me as if ta' say, "Kin we rest now?" So, I looked around and realized we were near the bus terminal. We went in and I used the facilities and then got me a drink a' water, and got one fer Clancy. I was hungry, but didn't have anything with me ta' eat, so since I knew the Mission was closed down fer the night, there wouldn't be anything until the next mornin'. Maybe we could just kinda' sleep on the bench in here and nobody would bother us. 

Clancy jumped up onta the bench beside me. We were over in the corner outta' the way of foot traffic. I drifted off ta' sleep with Clancy cuddled up beside me. When I awakened, I realized I had slept warmly during the night and wondered how that had happened. I woke up and found a man's coat draped over me and Clancy. Where did it come from? I inhaled the aroma of pipe tobacco, mixed in with aftershave. My goodness, it had been a long time since I had smelled that combination. I glanced around and didn't see anybody.

I removed the coat from over me and laid it to one side. Some good Samaritan had placed it there, and I didn't know who it was, but I was goin' ta make sure nothin' happened to it. I put Clancy to guard over it till I went ta' the ladies' room. I knew he wouldn't let anything happen to it. 

When I came back out, Clancy was a sittin' there, and the coat was gone. Now what??? He wasn't upset, er' nothin', so that meant the coat had belonged to one a' our friends. Clancy was jist a' waggin' his tail like he was happy and nothin' was wrong. Well! I never!

I walked with Clancy over ta the door, and looked outside. The rain was jist a pourin' down. It was goin' ta be one a' them days, miserable... Well, if we hurried, we could have breakfast at the Mission, and hear Pastor Joe read from God's Word and say somethin' upliftin' to us. I pulled my poncho from my cart, and drapin' it over my shoulders, I walked out inta' the curtain a' rain, with Clancy trottin' along beside me.

  *************************************
(Day Sixteen)
As Clancy and I walked along through the rain, I was a' thinkin' about how long Lucy Mae n' me had been friends, 'n' how we  had been through so much together. I remembered her tellin' me about her husband a' dyin' 'n' how they barely had enough scraped together to bury him. He still didn't have a proper gravestone, jist a big piece a' rock in the old church graveyard on the outskirts a' town. The church wasn't even in use any more. We went out there every onct' in a while ta pull the weeds offa it, and ta put flowers on it. He was buried not too far from my Billy. That wuz where I met her, soon after her husband died. She was out there a puttin' flowers on it then, 'n' cryin' her eyes out. The grave was still fresh with dirt and very little grass had grown ta cover it.

Reachin' up ta my face, I wiped the tears from my eyes, and  told myself I had ta be happy fer Lucy Mae now that she was back with her fam'ly, (or was she really?) I still felt like I needed ta be lookin' out fer her. My steps became more hurried; suddenly I was feelin' the need ta get ta the Mission and see if they had maybe heard anything from Lucy Mae. I had given her belongin's to Pastor Joe to lock in his office, don't cha know?

By the time I arrived at the Mission, I was gettin' really warm. The poncho was plastic and this was late May, almost June. When I got to the doorway, and Clancy shook himself (gettin' the rain off), I removed the poncho and shook it out, too. Then we went inside and the aroma of breakfast hit me. Oh, my goodness! I was a' starvin'. An air of excitement was a' stirrin' in the room, though, and a lot a' talkin' (more than usual) was a' goin' on. I wondered what all that was about!

I went through the line and got my plate of eggs, biscuits 'n' gravy, filled my cup with coffee, and headed to a table ta' chow down, next ta' Cookie Jack. He looked over at me as I wuz sittin' down. He blurted out, "AnnieBee! AnnieBee! You ain't never gonna believe what wuz in the paper! You jist ain't gonna believe it!"

*********************************
(Day Seventeen)
Smilin' at Jackie's exuberance, I thought to myself, (What now? Maybe our pictures are in the paper? If not, then someone important must have made the news.) 

"No, Jackie, I reckon I could never guess. Why don't ya tell me?"

"Jist wait! I gotta show ya."

"Why don't we finish our breakfast first? I am mighty hungry, cause I didn't have any supper last night, don't cha know." I bowed my head to thank the Lord for my breakfast and for my safety last night. Then I picked up my fork and began to eat. I was wonderin' about Lucy Mae and how her afternoon and night went. Was she happy? Had she had a good time with her grandchildren? 

I looked around me, at some of the friends I had made since bein' on the streets for a few years. Most of these people here in the Mission were good people that had, jist like me, fallen on hard times. Goodness knows, in this economy, things like that happen. 

While I was eatin' my breakfast, who should walk in but the Weasel. He walked through the line, with his hair a glist'nin' in the overhead lights. It was drippin' with the rain, and his coat looked suspiciously familiar...could it be...naw...no way...he jist happened ta have the same kind a' coat. He filled his tray and went ta sit at a table across the way with his back ta me n' Jackie. I looked down at Clancy to see if he gave any indication of recognition, but he was chewin' on a piece a' meat Jackie had given him.

Well, we finished breakfast; I could see Jackie was a' strainin' at the bit ta tell me his news. He ran and got the newspaper. (The Mission always gets a Sunday paper delivered to it, so that if anybody there needed ta see the ads that are in it.) 

"Here it is, AnnieBee! Listen, it says, 'Melvin Wilkins, Jr., who is running for election as Councilman in the seventh district, is shown welcoming his mother, Lucy Mae Wilkins, into his home. His children, Amelia and James, are standing by with their mother, Marci, waiting to hug her as well. Mr. Wilkins recently rescued his mother from danger on the streets of our fair city. He had been diligently searching for her, but had little success until seeing her appear on television following her harrowing escape from a murderer. Melvin's wife, Marci, took her mother-in-law to her own stylist for a make-over. Lucy Mae will be staying with the family and getting re-acquainted with them. They are quoted as saying, 'We just can't believe it! We almost lost her. We are so happy to have her back with us. We are going to take such good care of her and not let her wander off again!' "

"My goodness, Jackie! I didn't know you could read so well!"

He grinned shyly. "I had a good friend named Lilly who helped me learn ta read when I was in sixth grade. She was a purty little girl who lived down tha street from me and she was in my room at school. She would come over in tha afternoons and help me with my lessons. I had a good teacher that year, too. Then tha next year, I was moved to another foster home, and I never seen her ag'in. She was so nice." His face fell, then brightened.

"It sounds like Lucy Mae is happy, don't it? Look how she's a' smilin' in these pitchers, AnnieBee!"

Lookin' at the pictures, I could see what looked like a happy fam'ly group, but I knew that appearances could be deceivin'. It looked like a "photo op" to me, with publicity for a snake runnin' fer City Council. I was definitely goin' ta look inta' this, fer sure, don't cha know? 
********************************
(Day Eighteen)
It was a cinch that my investigatin' would have ta wait awhile, cause it was about time fer Pastor Joe ta speak ta us. Me 'n' Cookie Jack joined some a' the others 'n' helped clear everything up. Keepin' the Mission goin' was a lot a' work, 'n' it took everybody pitchin' in ta keep it clean and nice. Sometimes we'd go back and stack plates 'n' cups inta the dish washer. We could stand in the kitchen 'n' talk about what all was a goin' on. It was a way we could help pay for stayin' and eatin' there. 

After the dinin' room was cleaned up and swept, the ones that wanted to hear what Pastor Joe had ta' talk ta' us about sat down and faced the portable lectern that he stood behind. He opened the Bible and read from Matthew 5 about what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. Then he asked God's blessing on the reading of His Word. Some of the words talked about folks bein' comforted when they wuz a grievin'. He knew we were all a' missin' Lucy Mae. He went on ta' talk about bein' peacemakers, and tryin' to get along with one another when times is tough. I reckon maybe we all needed ta hear encouragin' words. Pastor Joe reminded us that life is short, and we needed ta' look out fer one another, 'n' not ta begrudge somebody comin' inta' good things a happenin' ta them. 


I reckon maybe he could see from all the talk goin' on that mornin' that some folks was bein' envious a' Lucy Mae's good fortune. Me, I wuz jist worried that she had fallen inta bad hands. Somethin' sure didn't smell right about that situation. I kinda kept my opinion ta myself fer right now, but determined ta investigate it later. 


After Pastor Joe dismissed us in prayer,  l looked around for the newspaper. I wanted ta take another gander at it.  Ah! There it was on the corner of the table near the lectern. Let me see, now. Cookie Jack had not read everything that it said about Lucy Mae. Hmmm.
There was a picture of Marci and Lucy Mae outside the Mission, and one beside it shows Lucy Mae gettin' her hair trimmed and another shoppin'. My goodness, but she looks a little bewildered and yet happy in all a' these pictures. It looks like they have pulled out all tha stops ta' make it seem like they really want her. 


Oh! Here it says that Mr. Melvin Wilkins, Jr. is havin' a fund raisin' dinner tonight at the Community Center, where his mother will be the guest of honor. He wants to introduce her to everyone, he says. Plates cost $150.00 each. Well, I reckon I know who won't be at that dinner ta' night, hmm Clancy? 


"Hey, wait, boy, maybe I can... if I kin' jist figger out a way ta do it..."
 ***********************************
 (Day Nineteen)
Well, I commenced ta worryin' over that problem, how ta get inta that fund-raiser. Fer one thing, I sure didn't have a hundred 'n' fifty dollars. Ha! It was a laugh jist ta' think a' somethin' like that. I sure didn't know anybody that 'd jist fork over a bunch a' money, and besides, even if I did, I sure never would be able ta' pay 'em back. Nope, give up that idea.

Let me see, now. Other than payin' money ta' get in, how would a body get in? Sneak in? Naw...that's fer the circus. Go in undercover, but how? 

I wuz jist a' rackin' my brains, somethin' fierce. What were some other ways that people would be a' goin'? There wuz workers, like waiters, caterers, clean up people, guests of people attendin', security. Lots a' people goin', but how could I go? 

I knew that they had prob'ly already hired the caterers, and clean up people. Waiters are hired sometimes by the arrangers of the party, and sometimes brought by the caterers. So that was all out. That left security. I'll bet the police were providing some kind of security. Police! The Lieutenant! I'll go see him. I know it's a Sunday, but he may be in, and besides that, I know where he lives.

Now, you may be wonderin' how I know that. Well, ya' see, it's like this... me 'n' the Looie go a long way back. He and my Billy used ta' go fishin' together. They wuz good friends, even though Billy was at least 20 years older than the Looie. But that's another story I'll share with ya sometime. Fer right now, it's enough that ya' know we go a long ways back. We trust each other. 

Now I know that the idea I had was a little far-fetched but it was still a idea. He might not even let me do it (probably wouldn't, but I had ta try anyhow). In fact, I'm pretty sure he would think it was crazy and foolhardy, and all that jazz. Come ta' think of it, I wasn't even goin' ta ask 'im. I'd jist do it. I knew I could pull it off. But I was goin' ta get some information from him. Kinda' talk over the Lucy Mae situation with him...yeah! 

I also had ta' get in touch with another friend a' mine that I knew from way back. 

***********************************
(Day Twenty)

Little Clancy looked up at me as I put my poncho back on as if ta say, "Can I go, too?" 

"Sure, boy, let's get out inta' the rain again. I'm sure you could use a walk! Nothin' like the great outta' doors ta make a feller feel alive and kickin'! Let's go, boy, we need ta' make tracks." Leaving my possessions in Pastor Joe's office, I opened the door to the Mission and we were outta' there.

The rain had been goin' for the last fifteen or so hours, not steady, jist kinda' off 'n' on. So, it wasn't too awful bad. You know the kind where it's kinda gentle. Anyways, we needed the Spring rains to fill up our many lakes and rivers. Made fer good fishin', don't cha know?

Whilst I wuz a sloshin' through the rain, Clancy wuz runnin' around and hittin' every fire hydrant 'n' tree 'n' bush he could find. Ha! It was so much fun, jist a watchin' him! My Billy woulda' loved that little dog. 

Funny thing how I found Clancy, or, I could say, how he found me. I wuz in the graveyard, a pullin' weeds offa' Billy's grave, (he hadn't been gone but about 2 months), and up runs this little pup. Somebody musta' put him out and left him. I wuz a settin' there, sobbin' my heart out, feelin' sorry fer myself, with no home and my Billy gone; Clancy comes up and puts his nose inta my hand, 'n' kinda' whines. It wuz love at first sight! 

I looked around ta see if anybody else wuz around that he coulda' belonged to. They weren't nobody else there, jist me 'n' him. I started goin' around ta some a' the houses and askin' if he belonged ta any a' them. I couldn't find his owner, so, well, from then on, he became my constant buddy. 

Finally arrivin' at the police station, I went in and shook the rain offa' my poncho. I went over ta the desk Sergeant. 

"Say, Sgt. Hamilton, is the Lieutenant around?"

"Hey, Annie! Yeah, he's upstairs in his office. He ain't none too happy to be working on a Sunday afternoon either. So you better tread softly, if you know what I mean!" Looking over the edge of the desk at Clancy, he said, "Hey, fellow! How 'ya doin'?"


Clancy yipped in return, waggin' his tail and pantin'.


"Well, we'll jist head on up, and see him. Thanks!" We walked softly up the stairway and I tippy-toed ta the doorway. The Looie was talkin' to some a' his men. I didn't look in, but jist kinda stood ta' one side and listened. 


"Okay, men, we have to be alert this evening - like always, but even more so, cause this is a big function and there's gonna be lots of important people there tonight. We need to be visible; we'll be wearing our uniforms, and we have to be there at around 6:30. Be ready for a long evening. Any questions?"


"Do we check in with anybody when we get there?" 


"No, the uniforms will be enough to let the Mayor know that we are present. Wear your badges where they can be seen, of course. Any other questions? Okay, you all know the drill. Show up on time, stay alert, and have supper before you come. That's all for now."


Quick as a wink, I picked up Clancy and we ducked inta' the ladies' restroom, until I heard them headin' down the stairs. Then I came out and went over ta the Looie's office. 


"Hey, Lieutenant! Jist thought I'd drop by and see how ya' doin! Clancy 'n' me wuz out takin' the fresh air and all."


"I'm kinda busy right now, AnnaBee, but it is good to see you. Are you recovered from your set-to with Gloria Simmons? Say, I saw you and Lucy Mae on television yesterday. You all are regular celebrities, aren't you? And, when I opened my paper this morning, whose face should I see plastered on the Society page but Lucy Mae's?"
*********************************
(Day Twenty-one)
"Yeah, Lieutenant...I'm kinda concerned about her, too. Ya' see, I happen to know that Melvin, her son, is a snake in the grass, jist a' waitin' ta bite her someway. Ya' didn't know this, but he was threat'nin' jist last week ta have her declared incompetent 'n' put her away somewhere. Now, I don't think he's changed his mind about that, jist his tactics. And, I'll bet she's supposed ta be at that big fund-raiser tonight, and I'm worried he's goin' ta' try somethin'. Are you a' gonna have men there tonight? Will you watch out fer her? Ya know I can't afford no hunderd and fifty bucks ta go, besides not havin' the duds to go, neither."

"Seeing that it's got you worried, AnnaBelle, I'll sure have my men alerted to watch out for anything suspicious concerning Lucy Mae. Okay?"

"Thanks, Lieutenant, you're a real pal. I wuz a thinkin' about you and my Billy jist today; about how you all used ta go fishin' sometimes. He thought about you like a son, don't cha know... I really miss him; some days more than others. These rainy days bring back lots 'a mem'ries, cause he loved ta go fishin' in the rain. Said the fish wuz a' bitin' better then."

The Looie put his arm around my shoulder and patted me on the back, handin' me a han'kerchief to wipe my eyes with. 

"Thank ya, kindly. I appreciate ya. I gotta be goin' now. I got things ta do. Here's yer hanky."

"Okay, AnnaBee, you take care now, and keep out of mischief, you hear me? Bye, Clancy, keep an eye on this woman, okay, boy?"

"Goodbye, Lieutenant, I'll certainly be careful," I replied, smilin' at him. Yeah, fer sure. 

We headed for another section of town, Clancy and me, towards where the community theater was. I used to appear in play productions 'back in the day', as they say. I needed to talk with the fellow who directs all the plays.
 ************************************
 (Day Twenty-two)
We trudged through the rain, and the plans I had wuz jist a rattlin' around inside my brain. I wondered if my ideas would work, but I reckoned maybe I'd find out ta'night.

It didn't take too long till I wuz knockin' on the stage door. Old Barney opened it, and when he saw it wuz me, he said, "Well, my goodness, Mz. AnnieBee, come on in here outta the rain, 'fore you catch yore death a' cold. What chu doin' out here a sloshin' around in all this water for? Ya tryin' ta turn inta' a frog?"

Now, Barney had been doorman at the theater for much longer than  I had been associated with it. I reckon maybe he was around 85 years old, and his hearin' wuz as sharp as any youngun's. Nobody put anything over on him. He was kinda bent over, and moved a little slow, but that didn't stop him any. His sense a' humor was unrivaled, to boot. Somebody told me once that he had been investment counselor years ago, and had made a mint a' money. I don't know why he became stage doorman. I'd like ta hear that story sometime.

Well, anyways I went on in with Clancy, and asked, "Is Maxie around right now? I see you all have a production set for the evenin'. I'd really like ta talk ta him."

"Yeah, sure, he's around here somewhere. Hey, Clancy, how are ya', boy? How's tricks? Have ya learned any lately? Ha ha. I see yore shakin' yore booty, gettin' the water offa ya. Ha ha."

Clancy looked up at me, and then yipped at Barney. It had been awhile since we had heard any of Barney's lame jokes. A few months anyway.

We went back toward the stage, leavin' Barney ta his humor, and found Maxie givin' directions ta some stage hands. Maximilian Vanderhoff was a colorful character in his own rights. He had come from money and you knew it when you heard him talk. Maxie was tall and aristocratic lookin', with black hair tinged with silver at the edges, he always wore a suit with a vest and looked like he had stepped from a band box, if ya know what I mean. Of course, he didn't always wear the suit coat, but it was nearby somewhere.  He looked kinda dark complected and had big brown eyes. I don't know how he got inta show business. He coulda' been an actor, he was so handsome. 

I jist kinda stood there watchin' him give directions, till one a' the stage hands noticed me and said, "Hey, Maxie, look who's here! Hey AnnieBee, where you been keepin' yerself?"

"Oh, jist around, I reckon. It's good ta see ya all. Maxie, how are ya? Could we talk a minute er two?"

Maxie came over and picked me up and hugged me. Yeah, I said he wuz tall, didn't I? Ha. He swung me around and set me down. I felt like a kid ag'in. 

"Annie, it is so mahvelous to see you again! How have you been? Are you doing well? Ah, Clancy, old fellow. How chahming to see you!" He squatted down and patted Clancy on the head. 

"Let's go back to my office and visit for awhile." Turning to the stagehands, he told them to take a five minute break and then get back to work.


Entering his office, he indicated a chair for me to sit down, and then sat in the chair opposite me. He reached over and took my hands in his. 

"Now, tell me how you've been doing, and what brings you here today, in all this rain. You look worried, Anna Belle; how can I help you?"


"Well, ya see, it's like this... You know my friend, Lucy Mae, and if you've seen the paper today, you saw that she is back with her son and his family, and that worries me. In my opinion, he is a snake in tha' grass, and he's got plans fer her that ain't in her best int'rest. He's runnin' fer City Councilman and havin' a big fund raiser ta'night. It costs a hunderd and fifty bucks to eat at it, and she's goin' to be on exhibit ta'night as bein' newly reunited with him. I'm worried he's got somethin' terrible planned. I gotta be there."


"Do you need funding to go? I can loan you the money for as long as you need."


"No, no, I got a plan. I don't need the money, I jist need ta' borry the costume I wore when we put on "The Pirates of Penzance", if ya still have it in the costume wardrobe. I wouldn't ever have the money ta' pay ya' back, anyhow."


"Sure, you may borrow it, Anna Belle. Keep it as long as you like." 


"Thanks, Maxie! I knew I could count on ya. Yore a true friend. Oh, and I need to borry some spirit gum and a mustache, and those eyeglasses I wore, too, if ya got 'em."

"Surely, whatever you need. I'm just delighted to be able to be of assistance. Oh, and Anna Belle, what ever you have planned, please be careful! I know how daring you can be. I have been keeping up with the news, you know!"

"Sure," I grinned. "Thanks again! I promise I'll be keerful! I'll see ya ag'in soon."
 ******************************
 (Day Twenty- Three)
Heading back to the wardrobe office, I looked through the costumes till I found what I needed, and then through the cosmetic supplies, finding the few things I needed from them. I put a garment bag over the costume and put the few supplies into a plastic bag. Then Clancy and I went to the back door, saying goodby to Barney. The rain had slowed to a drizzle, and I was glad of that.

Time was passing and I had some things to do before heading for the Community Center. For one thing, I had to take Clancy back to the Mission, and see if Cookie Jack would look after him while I was not able to. After all, I couldn't show up there with Clancy. People might recognize me if Clancy wuz bee-boppin' along with me. Besides that, the character I was playin' wouldn't have a dog with him; and Clancy couldn't show up at a big fund-raiser and be safe. Somebody would 'take him into custody' and put him in the dog-pound. Couldn't have that!

So,  back to the Mission I headed, as fast as Clancy and I could go; plannin' in my head how to carry the whole plan off without tippin' anybody off as to what I was a doin'. It wuz gonna be a bit tricky, don't cha know? Where could I change and how would I get to the Community Center without making anybody suspicious? Ah! Yes! My poncho would certainly come in handy. I knew the rain was due to continue for a bit, and I could put the hat for my costume underneath my poncho and nobody would see it till I was ready to wear it. 

It wasn't long before I was back at the Mission. It was about 5 p.m. by now, and suppertime. Boy, was I beginnin' ta get jittery about my plan. Would it work? Well, only time would tell. 

I headed indoors and saw Pastor Joe standin' behind the servin' line, dishin' up vegetables fer the people in line. I went over ta him and asked if I could stash my outfit in his office. He looked at me with a question on his face, like "What outfit?". 

"I'll explain later," I told him with a smile. 

"Sure, AnnaBee, go ahead. I trust you."

"Thanks, Pastor Joe! I knew I could count on ya!"

I stashed it, and then came back out and got in line. Cookie Jack was already seated when I came over and sat down next ta him. 

"Hi, AnnieBee, I haven't seen you very much taday, you been gone a whole lot. What cha been doin'? Didja go visit with Lucy Mae?"

"Nope... haven't been ta see her yet, but I got a plan ta see her t'night. I need your help ta do that, too. If you would look after Clancy this evenin' till I get back from seein' her, I'd really appreciate it. Would you do that fer me and Clancy?"

"Why, sure I would AnnieBee, you know I'd do anything fer you! Yore one a' the best friends a feller could have! How you gonna see her? Ain't she gonna be at that big party? How you gonna get in? You don't have any money. Don't cha have ta have a ticket? You reckon they'll jist let ya in cause you're a friend a' hers?" 

Cookie Jack's eyes got real big, as it dawned on him that I was up ta somethin'. "Are ya gonna sneak in, AnnieBee? How? Won't cha get inta trouble?"

"Now, don't ya worry none, Jackie, I ain't gonna get inta trouble, but I do have a plan." I put my finger to my lips and gave him the 'mum's the word' sign, and smiled.

That didn't seem to reassure him too much, 'cause he still looked worried. (Can't say I blamed him, 'cause he knew my history of getting into jams.)

"Thank you, Jackie, for carin' and for watchin' after Clancy.  I promise you, Jackie, I'll be keerful. Okay?" 

"Okay, AnnieBee."  (To be continued) 
*********************************
(Day Twenty-four)
Heading back to the wardrobe office, I looked through the costumes till I found what I needed, and then through the cosmetic supplies, finding the few things I needed from them. I put a garment bag over the costume and put the few supplies into a plastic bag. Then Clancy and I went to the back door, saying goodby to Barney. The rain had slowed to a drizzle, and I was glad of that.

Time was passing and I had some things to do before heading for the Community Center. For one thing, I had to take Clancy back to the Mission, and see if Cookie Jack would look after him while I was not able to. After all, I couldn't show up there with Clancy. People might recognize me if Clancy wuz bee-boppin' along with me. Besides that, the character I was playin' wouldn't have a dog with him; and Clancy couldn't show up at a big fund-raiser and be safe. Somebody would 'take him into custody' and put him in the dog-pound. Couldn't have that!

So,  back to the Mission I headed, as fast as Clancy and I could go; plannin' in my head how to carry the whole plan off without tippin' anybody off as to what I was a doin'. It wuz gonna be a bit tricky, don't cha know? Where could I change and how would I get to the Community Center without making anybody suspicious? Ah! Yes! My poncho would certainly come in handy. I knew the rain was due to continue for a bit, and I could put the hat for my costume underneath my poncho and nobody would see it till I was ready to wear it. 

It wasn't long before I was back at the Mission. It was about 5 p.m. by now, and suppertime. Boy, was I beginnin' ta get jittery about my plan. Would it work? Well, only time would tell. 

I headed indoors and saw Pastor Joe standin' behind the servin' line, dishin' up vegetables fer the people in line. I went over ta him and asked if I could stash my outfit in his office. He looked at me with a question on his face, like "What outfit?". 

"I'll explain later," I told him with a smile. 

"Sure, AnnaBee, go ahead. I trust you."

"Thanks, Pastor Joe! I knew I could count on ya!"

I stashed it, and then came back out and got in line. Cookie Jack was already seated when I came over and sat down next ta him. 

"Hi, AnnieBee, I haven't seen you very much taday, you been gone a whole lot. What cha been doin'? Didja go visit with Lucy Mae?"

"Nope... haven't been ta see her yet, but I got a plan ta see her t'night. I need your help ta do that, too. If you would look after Clancy this evenin' till I get back from seein' her, I'd really appreciate it. Would you do that fer me and Clancy?"

"Why, sure I would AnnieBee, you know I'd do anything fer you! Yore one a' the best friends a feller could have! How you gonna see her? Ain't she gonna be at that big party? How you gonna get in? You don't have any money. Don't cha have ta have a ticket? You reckon they'll jist let ya in cause you're a friend a' hers?" 

Cookie Jack's eyes got real big, as it dawned on him that I was up ta somethin'. "Are ya gonna sneak in, AnnieBee? How? Won't cha get inta trouble?"

"Now, don't ya worry none, Jackie, I ain't gonna get inta trouble, but I do have a plan." I put my finger to my lips and gave him the 'mum's the word' sign, and smiled.

That didn't seem to reassure him too much, 'cause he still looked worried. (Can't say I blamed him, 'cause he knew my history of getting into jams.)

"Thank you, Jackie, for carin' and for watchin' after Clancy.  I promise you, Jackie, I'll be keerful. Okay?" 

"Okay, AnnieBee."  (To be continued) 
 ********************************
(Day Twenty-five)
Well, after tellin' Clancy to be good, I went into Pastor Joe's office and got the costume, and my poncho, and the little bag a' cosmetics, and headed for the ladies' room. Takin' the costume out of the garment bag, I quickly slipped it on, and put my poncho on over it, and took my clothing back into the office puttin' it with my cart. I hid the hat that went with the costume in the pocket of my poncho, along with the cosmetics bag. 

Steppin' along quite lively, because the time was gettin' close, I headed for the Community Center. I had the hood of my poncho up over my head ta keep the drippy rain offa my head. Thinkin' I heard footsteps behind me, I turned to look, but the hood kept me from seeing real clear, so I figured I wouldn't worry about it too much. I knew people would be out and about, so it was really no problem. Knowin' I was up to what some people would say was no good, I was jist kinda nervous, don't cha know.

When I got close to the Community Center, there wuz a lot of people millin' around, and since it was rainin', the check-in point for those goin' to the fund-raiser was near the door of the large room where they were havin' the dinner, so there was ample time for me to do what was necessary. 

Steppin' behind a large potted palm tree, I removed my poncho. It is a good thing I am small enough to do that. I folded it as small as I could and stuffed it down behind the plant into the pot, then quickly applied my mustache using the spirit gum. I hoped it was on straight. Puttin' on my glasses and cap, I checked my holster and fake gun, polished my badge with my sleeve, and headed for the room where the guests were assemblin' at the tables. 

Spottin' one of the policemen assigned to duty at the dinner, I nodded to him briefly, tippin' the edge of my hat with my right hand, I ducked my head slightly, avoidin' meetin' his eyes. 
 *************************************
(Day Twenty-six)
Ambling slowly, I entered the banquet room, my eyes sweepin' swiftly around the area (like a cop's would), and took in the whole scene. Ladies in evenin' attire were scattered throughout the room, some seated at the tables, some standin' in small groups in the central area of the room. The tables were grouped, as one would expect, to accommodate a large number of people, placed so as to seat a great many. Men were dressed in monkey suits, lookin' mighty uncomfortable; some didn't look very happy to be here. 

Movin' to one side of the room, kinda outta the way of traffic, I edged up against the wall, hookin' my my left thumb inta my belt,  and placin' my right hand on my gun. I saw Melvin over in the corner, whisperin' to some tall guy who was a laughin' and slappin' him on the back. Lookin' closer, I saw it was none other than Jackie's Uncle Hank. Well, well! This was gettin' interestin', fer sure. Hmmm. The way they was gettin' along, it looked like Uncle Hank was not such a great upstandin' guy after all. 


Oh, and look, there was the Mayor headin' over to talk ta Melvin. Wonder if they are good buddies, or what... 


Glancin' around some more, I was lookin' for Lucy Mae. There she was, at what I assumed was the head table, sittin' next ta Marci Wilkins. Marci had on a frothy pink dress and had what looked like a diamond pendant around her neck. Lucy looked like a million dollars, with her hair all fixed up purty, and wearin' a pearl necklace. Her dress was a midnight blue color, with gauzy sleeves, and I never woulda knowed her if she'd a been out on the street dressed like that. She looked mighty happy! They was smilin' at one another and it looked like Marci was handin' Lucy Mae's glass to her. Was that red wine in the glass?


All at once my upper lip started ta itchin'. Reachin' up, I felt the mustache. It was still fastened on pretty good, but the spirit gum was gettin' warm in here with me amongst all these people and then I remembered the trouble I had with it several years before. I was allergic to it. Well, I'd just have ta tough it out as long as I could. Knowin' I'd be in trouble if they caught me impersonatin' a police officer, I couldn't afford to be discovered. I had once heard that a person could go ta jail fer a year and be fined up to $500.00. Well, the allergy wasn't life threatnin', jist made me itchy. I could live with that fer awhile.  
 ******************************
(Day Twenty-Seven)_
Pretty soon, everybody began sittin' down at the banquet tables. I was keepin' my eyes fastened on Lucy Mae. She was a drinkin' that red wine pretty steady, with jist a few appetizers a goin' in, and her face was beginnin' ta look kinda rosy-like. I noticed that Marci was signalin' the waiters ta keep fillin' Lucy's glass. Marci had a tight little smug smile on her face. Uh-oh! Trouble was a brewin', fer sure!

Waiters began bringin' in trays of plates filled with food and settin' them in front a' people. Of course, they began with the head table. I was glad ta see, Lucy puttin' some real food inta her mouth. I looked at the contents of the plates goin' past me and saw they had the usual banquet fare on them, ya know, slices of ham, little round white potatoes sprinkled with chives, and green beans with slivered almonds on top. The waiters were busy placing baskets of bread rolls on the tables as well.

Well, everybody commenced ta eatin' and wuz busy with fillin' their mouths over the next fifteen minutes. I kept puttin' my hand up to my mouth, checkin' my mustache and kinda rubbin' my upper lip where it was itchin'. I was beginnin' ta really sweat, inside this  costume, both with nerves and excitement. 

Then the Mayor got up and was talkin' about what a fine young man Melvin was and how he had rescued Lucy from the homelessness of the streets. Then he introduced Melvin, and everybody started clappin' their hands. Well, about that time, Lucy Mae stood up, and starts actin' kinda wild. She pointed at the lights overhead.

"Look at all the pretty rainbows! They are jist a dancin around like fairies! Look! Look! Ha, ha, those are fairies! They're a wavin' to us! They're comin' this way!" Then she collapsed! Melvin caught her and was a holdin' her.

Of course, everybody started ta crowdin' in around her, so I ran over to her and started tellin' the others to back up and give her air. I had noticed the rescue squad parked outside in case of any accidents (you know they are always around when a big occasion is takin' place), so I hollered for somebody to go get them. 

I spoke to Melvin and told him that I was Officer Calhoun, and that I would ride with Lucy to the hospital if he would like. He looked at me kinda funny like, but agreed and said he and his wife would follow in their car. 

All around me, I was hearin' people whisperin' that Lucy was drunk, and how awful for Melvin, havin' his mother act that way. Somebody else said, "Yeah, she probably became a lush livin' on the streets the way she did. I'd just let her go back to the streets or put her in the nursin' home for her own good. How very embarrassing for him!" 

The rescue squad team came in and strapped Lucy to the gurney and took her out to the vehicle. I followed closely, and got into the ambulance next to the driver. I could hear them checkin' her vital signs. 
 ***************************
 (Day Twenty-Eight)
Turning to face the attendants working on Lucy, I told them I believed she had been given a hallucinogenic drug, describing what had taken place during the evening. Their reply reflected their agreement with my information. 

"Unfortunately, I didn't think to pick up the glass she had been drinking from, but it could have been in her food instead. Could you all please put that into your report? How is she doing?"

"Do you happen to know the patient's name and age?" one of them asked me. They were working to stabilize her condition before we pulled out. 

"Yes, her name is Lucille Mae Wilkins; she is 62 and is the mother of Melvin Wilkins, Jr. who is running for City Council. He is the one holding the fund-raising dinner tonight."

They got an IV going into her arm, and getting no response from her verbally, they had attached a blood pressure cuff to her arm and applied EKG leads to her chest, and now were ready to leave.  I looked toward the doors we had just come through and still saw no sign of Melvin or Marci. Where could they be, anyhow?

As I sat in the seat beside the driver, we took off down the driveway and toward the hospital, with the siren going. 

Oh, how I hated the sound of that siren. I had heard it so very many times in my life. Even though it could signify someone's life was being saved, there were still times it meant the loss of life.

Turning toward the windshield, I glanced out the window to see where we were. Fortunately, the Community Center was only a few minutes away from the hospital and we were soon pulling up at the emergency room doors. The driver turned to go back into the vehicle to help the other attendants take Lucy out, and I hopped out on to the ground and ran to the back of the van, as they brought Lucy out.

She looked so pale and helpless, it made me want to cry, but of course, I couldn't do so and still keep my disguise believable. I stood beside her and looked down at her. She was still out like a light. I went in right behind them as the automatic doors swished open. We headed into the emergency room and stopped at the desk. 

The nurse asked for information, which the attendants gave to her. When they asked about insurance I told them it would be taken care of by her son, Melvin Wilkins, Jr. who was supposed to be on his way. I didn't know it at the time, but he had been stopped by reporters on his way out of the banquet room. I would be seeing it later on the news. 

******************************
(Day twenty-nine)
The EMT's were ready to leave and asked if I wanted to ride with them, since I came with them. I replied that I was going to stick around for awhile since Lucy needed someone there to get any information about her condition, at least until her son got there. Just as they were leaving, who should walk in but Lieutenant Shannon. 

He came strolling into the emergency room area and spotted me standing near the desk. He was carrying something familiar-looking. It was my poncho. Ooops! The jig was up. 

"I believe this is yours, 'Officer Calhoun'. Have you missed it? One of my men saw you stashing it in the potted palm plant's container. We had you under surveillance from the time you left the Mission this afternoon." His eyes were twinkling as he looked at me gravely. "Anna Belle, could you not really trust me to look after our friend, Lucy? By the way, your mustache is slightly askew, and you might want to just remove it. You can be a female police person, don't you realize."

He made me feel lower than a snake's belly, but I just couldn't have left it alone and not done somethin' and I believe he knew that. 

"I'm sorry, Looie, I wuz jist so worried about my friend, I didn't think it'd hurt ta have another set a' eyes a-watchin' her, don't cha know? By the way, I'm sure she was drugged by somebody there tonight, maybe her daughter-in-law. We should be hearin' somethin' soon about her condition. I should have picked up her glass while they wuz gettin' her onto the gurney, but I wuz jist so worried about her."

"Well, Annie, while all the commotion was going on, one of my men snatched the glass and plate she had been using. The lab techs here are testing them for drugs. I'm pretty sure she was on some kind of hallucinogen. I know she didn't take it herself. Don't worry, we'll get to the bottom of it. Now let's check and see how she is doing."

He spoke to the Emergency Room Nurse behind the desk and asked her for any information she could give them. 

"She is doing as well as could be expected, what with her age and the drug she ingested. She will be sleeping for several hours."

"I want her put into protective custody. Nobody, I repeat, nobody is to be allowed to see her alone. This officer will be back there with her. She has had some nurse's training, so she is capable. Officer Calhoun, please go back and stay with Mz. Wilkins, would you please?"

"Yes, sir, Lieutenant Shannon, sir." I smiled tremulously at him, and quickly made my way back to Lucy. 

 *****************************************
 (Day Thirty)


Making my way quickly back to Lucy, I found her in a cubicle in the emergency room. I knew she would soon be assigned a room. We had a small but efficient hospital, and I knew they would take good care of my friend. I knew a lot of the people here, because I volunteered as a Candy Striper, but of course, looked a lot different in the uniform I had on at present. You know that people rarely look past the policeman's uniform, or other uniforms actually, so quite often never really see the person inside it. 


Walking up to the nurse who was checking Lucy's vitals and recording them on the chart, I inquired about Lucy. I looked at the nurse's name tag, as if seeing it for the first time. "How is Mz. Wilkins doing? Is she out of danger yet, Flora?"


Without even looking up, she replied, "She is going to be sleeping for quite some time. We are watching her heart, though. We are working on the identification of the drug and it looks like it is in the class B group of drugs, and quite dangerous, as you probably know, being a policeman. I understand she is to be allowed to see no one alone. I wonder where her son is! He should have been here by now. Poor fellow; just finding his mom and now this! I hope he hasn't had an accident on the way. I don't know what this world is coming to..."


If you haven't guessed by now, Flora is a talker, and not given to keeping her opinions to herself. She could talk to a bedpost and never question not gettin' an answer! Flora is definitely the nurse to have on duty if you want conversation or information. Ha.


About that time, Melvin came rushing through the emergency room doors, hat in hand, and handkerchief dabbing at his eyes.  The water was dripping from his broad shoulders where he had come in through the rain. Melvin was tall and quite good-looking. He had red hair like his momma, but his eyes were a little too close together for him to be completely handsome. I stood to one side, studying his actions. He certainly seemed to be genuinely upset. Wonder where little Marci was?


"Where is she? Where is my poor momma? Oh, I hope she is okay. You've got to let me see her. I demand it!"


"Just a minute, sir!" I held up my hand and touched his arm. "The nurse is still working on your mother. As you know, I accompanied her to the hospital. If you remember, I am officer Calhoun. Lieutenant Shannon placed your mother in protective custody, and I will be remaining with her until further notice. She is to see no one alone. He thinks her life may be in danger; possibly someone is trying to get at you through her. It is in hers and your best interest to have her protected." I had lowered my voice an octave, and spoke very quietly to make it sound a little more official-like.  (To be continued)
********************************
(Day Thirty-one)
Moving quickly over to Lucy Mae, Melvin dropped to his knees beside her bed and began sobbing. He grabbed hold of her hand (the one without the IV needle) and looked lovingly into her face.

"Oh, Mommy, Mommy! Please get better! I don't know how I could go on living if you died. I just found you, and now, you're lying at death's door!" He placed his head on the bed beside her chest. I tell you, he deserved the Academy Award for that performance!

Just at that time,  a photographer stepped behind the curtain into the cubicle and snapped a picture. I ran her out of the room with a threat of jail time. I might have known little Melvin was up to no good. 

Melvin just kept kneeling there, putting on his vaudeville act, til I went over and put my hand on his shoulder. 

The fake teeth I had inserted in the front of my mouth (I forgot to tell you about them), were beginning to slip and giving me a lisp. They stretched my lips, which further changed my appearance. 

"There, there, young man," in intoned gently to him. "Thee's going to be getting better thoon, tho don't you worry. (I reached up to adjust the teeth.) I'll be with her to protect her, too. No further harm is coming to her, believe me! Now, she needs to get her rest and be allowed to recover. So, if you don't mind, you should be going, Mister Wilkins. The hothpital will keep you informed of her condition."  (The lisp was intermittent now.)

"Oh thank you, Officer. I appreciate all that is being done for my Momma. I don't know what I'd do if I lost her." Melvin stood up. He was moving his hat around in a circle in his hands. Man! He was a good actor. He should join my little theater group! "Say, I am going to need a nurse for my Momma when she gets out of here. As an officer of the law, you know a lot of people, do you happen to know of a nurse I could hire?"

"Well, I happen to have a sister who does private care and she really needs the work, what with the downturn on the economy. I'd be glad to put her into touch with you, if you like. She can be trusted to follow your orderth. (Darn! These teeth were not such a benefit, after all!) I'm sure Melvin wasn't noticing because he was concentrating on his own performance. Ha.

"Say, that would be wonderful! Here's my card with my office and home numbers and addresses. Thank you so much! I need to go now and tell my wife and children that we  believe Grandma is going to be okay." Turning to Flora, who had been taking in the whole sick  bed scene while wiping the tears from her eyes, Melvin implored, "Please have them call me if  there is any change in her condition!"

"Oh, yes, sir, I will. Now don't you worry none, we'll be taking real good care of her." Flora replied, touching his arm gently. "She's in good hands. You go on home now, and get some rest."

Turning back toward the bed once more, to gaze lovingly on his mother, he put his hat back onto his head and left the room. 
****************************** 
(Day thirty-two)


Looking at the chair next to the hospital bed where Lucy lay, I walked over and sat down. Flora said she would bring me a cup of coffee if I liked, since I couldn't leave the patient. She didn't have another patient at the time, so she was able to go to the little room they had set aside for breaks and get some coffee. 

"Oh, thank you, that would be wonderful! I've been on my feet for hours now, and they are beginning to feel the effecth." (Ooops, teeth slipping again.) As soon as she left for the coffee, I reached up and took them out, putting them in my pocket.

While she was gone, I took Lucy's hand and saw that she was beginning to sleep more naturally. I offered up a silent "thank You" prayer to the Good Lord. I vowed to help catch the person who did this to my good friend, or die trying. What had happened to her was a travesty, and someone was not going to get away with it. I certainly had my suspicions. 

I turned loose of Lucy's hand and stood up as Flora came bustling back in, carrying two cups of coffee. Uh oh! That meant she intended to have some conversation, and she might just discover who I was, since she knew me as Anna Belle Chasteen in real life. 

Should I just go ahead and tell her and risk her blabbin' it? Or should I try to keep shammin' her? Maybe, if I told her I could  get her support? After all, she knew of Lucy Mae and mine's friendship, and maybe could help us. Might be good to have some help in this area. She is a good old soul, and a dandy nurse. What to do? 

********************** 
(Day thirty-three)
That decision was taken out of my hands with the arrival of accident victims in the emergency room area. Flora set down the coffee and hurried out of the cubicle. Whew! I felt bad for the new arrivals but was glad that I didn't have to chat with Flora. 

Turning to Lucy, I noticed that she was sweating profusely and shaking. The drug was still affecting her body. Her teeth were rattling, and she was moaning. I looked in the cabinets for another blanket to put on her. Oh oh, she was arousing, and making gurgling sounds. Nausea! I knew how it sounded. My husband, Billy, did a lot of it before he passed away. I grabbed the trash can, and ran over to put it on the floor next to Lucy's bed. Then I held her while she threw up. Laying her down gently and wiping her mouth with a clean washcloth, I smoothed her brow. 

"Oh, my poor Lucy! What have they done to ya?" I pushed the 'help' button to bring a nurse. I knew, though, that with accident victims in the ER that it may be awhile. My nurses' training was going to come in handy, it looked like. Ya see, back before Billy and I was married, I had gotten my license to be a practical nurse, in my maiden name, Bellisima Calhoun. I was workin' on gettin' my full degree when we got married, but we didn't have the money for me to keep goin' to school, cause we were buyin' a house. Billy didn't want me workin' either. See, bein' new to nursing, I woulda had to work some nights, and he wanted me home with him. He felt like it was his job to support us. Then the time jist kinda passed and I didn't continue pursuin' the nursin' degree, don't cha know?

My knowledge was goin' to come in handy, now, jist like it had when Billy was sick. Moving the trash can, I got a fresh wash cloth and wet it with warm water. Returning to her bedside, I washed her face gently with it and then dried her face with a clean towel. She was still shivering. Her skin felt clammy. I pushed the nurse's bell again, then stuck my head out through the cubicle's curtain. 

"We need some help in here, now!" 

I had no first hand experience with a person who had OD'ed on drugs, at least Psychedelic drugs. I only knew what I had heard, and the care I could give right now was only basic.  I figured I was goin' to be learnin' a lot about them, though, first hand. I knew, too, that it was goin' ta be a very long night.


The curtains parted, and in walked the doctor.


"Let's see how our patient is doing, Officer. I hear you are going to be staying with Mz. Wilkins to protect her.  I understand the nurses have been taking good care of her until I could get here. I was delayed in traffic by an accident. Then I had to check a report that came in from the labs."


"I see, Doc. I was wonderin' where you might be. She just now threw up and she's been sweatin' and chillin' a whole lot. I know the nurses are busy out there with the accident victims, but Mz. Wilkins here needs some help, too. Bein' a police officer and all, I see quite a bit of this, but usually it's the druggies that I come in contact with, not a nice lady like this one. Plus, I don't stand around with 'em all night, after I bring 'em in."


The doctor checked her vital signs, felt her face, and then looked at me.

"We're going to move her to a private room, and since you are making sure she is undisturbed, we'll see that you have a comfortable chair to use. The most we can do right now is keep check on her vital signs, and put her in a darkened room, making sure she is kept comfortable. She seems to be settling down again. Her eyes are going to be quite sensitive to light for at least two weeks, maybe more. She may also have recurring bouts with hallucinations. We have discovered the drug she was given most likely to be a derivative of deadly nightshade. It could easily have been lethal, and most likely would have, if she hadn't been brought immediately to the emergency room. A report is being made right now to your Lieutenant. Keep watching over this little lady. Somebody really wanted her gone." 


The doctor turned and left the cubicle, leaving me alone with Lucy once again.
 *********************************
 (Day Thirty-four)
Within minutes, orderlies came to move Lucy to a private hospital room on the second floor, down the hall from the nurses' desk. That must have been the only empty room they had, because it would have been preferable to have her close to the monitoring area. Having her room at the end of the hall would make guarding her more difficult for whoever was on duty. I knew that I would not be able to stay with her all the time, but I would be with her all night.

As soon as they got her moved into the bed from the ER bed, the nurse who had accompanied her got her settled, checked her vital signs, and told me if I needed anything to let them know. 

I closed the door to the room and went back to the bedside of my dear friend; taking her hand into mine, I sat there and prayed for her recovery. It was not a very long prayer, but I knew that God was listening and trusted He would continue taking care of her. I wiped away my tears and sat there silently, watching Lucy's face for signs of pain or discomfort. There was only a very small night light to one side of the bed, just enough to know that the room was not completely dark. If she woke up, I would be close by to assure her that everything was okay.

It was a long night...sounds came in although they were muffled by the closed door. Nurses moving up and down the hall. They came in periodically to check on us. One of them, I don't remember which, brought me coffee around 3 a.m. because she knew I needed to remain awake to watch over Lucy. 

About 5 a.m. I rubbed my eyes, which felt like sandpaper was in them, only to see someone standing over Lucy. She was dressed in what looked like a lab coat, but she looked familiar to me. The light was shafted into the room through the partially open doorway. I saw the glint of a needle in her hand, poised over the IV line going into Lucy's arm. I flipped on the overhead light, and who should I spy but little old Marci!

The look on her face was priceless! Amazement, mixed with anger, and then replaced by fear. 

She dropped the hypodermic needle onto the floor and kicked it under the bed, hoping I had not seen it, I'm sure. 

"What are you doing here at this time of morning, Mz. Wilkins?"

"Why...why... I was so worried about Mother Wilkins I couldn't sleep and just had to come and see for myself how she is. I'll just go now. I see she is doing okay, and I'm so very glad." 

She started backing out of the room, but I quickly moved behind her and got the pair of handcuffs from my belt. Taking her arms and putting them behind her, I cuffed her.


"I don't think so, ma'am, I think maybe we'll just make a call to the station house and get a patrol car up here." 

I made her sit down, and rang for the nurse. I pulled my prop gun from its holster and trained it on her. When the nurse came running in, I told her to call the station house and get a patrol car dispatched.


It was only a few minutes before the Lieutenant and a couple of his men came into the room. I pointed out the hypodermic needle on the floor under the bed and that it was in Marci's hand when I looked up and saw her getting ready to inject it into the IV line. They took her away, along with the evidence, and as I sat down, relief rushed through me so that I felt weak in the knees. 


As I sat there, I reflected on where the courage to do what I had just done had come from. I knew, it was not of my own strength, but it was God answering my prayers. He gives us strength when we need it the most, if only we trust Him to. I thanked Him and smoothed Lucy's hair from her face. It was almost dawn, the beginning of a new day. And Boy, Howdy! It promised to be a humdinger of a day!
**************************
 (Day Thirty-five)


I turned off the overhead light to protect Lucy's eyes. I opened the venetian blinds just a hair, instead, to give some natural light to the room.

Then, leaning back in the chair, I realized how very tired I felt, and wondered how the day was going to progress. How long should I stay here beside Lucy; would the Lieutenant send someone else this morning to take over protecting her? I needed to soon get back to the Mission and check on my little Clancy. Knowing Cookie Jack would take care of him, (along with everyone else), didn't make being away from Clancy any easier. This was the second time in the recent past that I had given his care into someone else's hands. I just couldn't keep doing that to him. He deserved better. I couldn't desert my friend, Lucy, either. I would definitely remain with her until a replacement showed up. What a quandary!

Wondering what was taking place down at the police station, I began to think about Melvin and the children. Had Melvin put Marci up to the stunt pulled at the banquet? Had it all been his idea; had it all been her idea? Were they in it together? How could he do such a thing to his mother? His own mother? I shook my head in wonderment...I just couldn't believe it! How would this affect the children? They were old enough to realize what Marci had done, and it would be near to impossible to keep it from them. What could she have been thinking? How could she hate Lucy so much?

A noise coming from the bed interrupted my reverie, and I looked at Lucy. She was beginning to stir and making moaning sounds. 

"Who are you? Why am I in bed? Where am I?" Her voice came out scratchy, as she tried to sit up. I had been warned the drug could make her confused. She sounded quite agitated and definitely confused. 

Oh, oh! My policeman's uniform, plus the darkness in the room protecting her eyesight, was not helping her confusion any. She most likely would not even remember anything that happened last night. We would have to wait and see. Now the question was what and how much to tell her. I'd just take it slow and easy, and  not tell her anything pertinent.

"I'm your friend, Anna Belle, and you're here in the hospital. You ate somethin' at the banquet last night that must a' made you ill. We brought you here in an ambulance, and I've been with you all night."

She peered at me. "Oh, it's you, AnnaBee! Why are you in that policeman's uniform. You're not a policeman! I don't understand... why are you dressed like that?"

"Well, I didn't have the money ta come to the banquet (no surprise there, eh?) and I knew they'd have Police security there. So, I borrowed the outfit from the community theater wardrobe and came as a cop."

Lucy laughed. Good, she was sounding like herself a little again.

Then she laid back down. "I'm really tired, AnnaBee, I think I'll jist  rest a little." The machine began beeping and I looked at it. The exertion of sitting up and talking had caused some kind of reaction in her body. Her heart was acting up! The nurse came hurrying in...  
 *************************************
 (Day Thirty - six)
Standing on the other side of Lucy, the head nurse took her stethoscope and began listening to Lucy's heart. I couldn't tell a thing about what was taking place by her expressionless face. Apparently this nurse was not as talkative as Flora, so I asked, "How is she? I am her friend as well as protector right now."

"Are you family?" the nurse replied, glancing up at me. 

Hmmm. Well, in the broadest sense of the word, I was, so I said, "Yes, Ma'am, you could say that I am her sister."

The nurse smiled, knowingly. "Well, then, she is doing as well as could be expected under the circumstances, her age and all. Actually, I think she probably is going to be okay, but she is going to need a lot of rest. You do know, don't you, that we won't be able to keep her for very long. Does she have some place to go?"

Wow! That was the million dollar question...Where was there for Lucy to go? The answer to that depended on whether Melvin was actually behind the attempt on Lucy's life. I needed some answers, because I felt responsible for taking care of my friend. Right now, she really had no one else she could rely on. 

I knew I had no place to keep her, and a nursing home was out of the question without someone with her constantly to protect her. If she had been accessible in a hospital with people around her 24/7, what would it be like in a facility where she would be housed with others who were sick and indigent, just like her? No one to watch over her. How could I take care of her in a nursing home? What other recourse was there?

 ***************************
(Day thirty-seven)
A couple of hours passed as I sat there watching my friend's chest rising and falling, as she was breathing, and hoping each breath would not be the last. I was thinking about all the time we had spent together and the fun times, yes, and even the dangerous times we had had over the past couple of years. I just couldn't bear the thought of losing her to this terrible crime perpetrated on her. Such needless waste!

I heard the door opening quietly and looked up to see an orderly bringing breakfast in. Lucy's breakfast looked like it consisted of juice and jello. Yuk! I would see if she wanted to partake of it, if she woke up. I wasn't going to disturb her if she was resting well. She was being well-hydrated with the saline solution flowing into her veins.

He asked me if I would like a regular tray, and I replied in the positive. "Yes, it seems like I remember the food is pretty good here. Thank you, I would appreciate that!"

In a couple of minutes he returned with the tray of eggs, toast, bacon, juice and coffee. Smelling it, I realized how ravenous I felt! It had been a long time since last evening's supper at the Mission!

Looking down at my hands, I realized they could use some washing, so I stepped into the bathroom, used the facility (with the door to the bathroom open, so I could keep an eye on the door to the room) and then washed my hands. Drying my hands, I stepped back into Lucy's room and saw she was stirring. My breakfast could wait.

"Would you like some juice to drink?" I asked her gently. "Do you feel like me raisin' your bed jist a little so you can drink it?"

She looked up at me with weary eyes, and replied, "I think so."

Using the controls to the bed, I elevated her head ever so slightly. Putting the straw into the juice, I held it so that she could sip it. She lay there a few minutes and sipped some more, very slowly. Then she said, "That's enough."

"Wouldn't you like some jello? It's lemon...you know, you like lemon, don't you? How about you jist open your mouth 'n' I'll put it in for you?"

"No, thanks, AnnieBee. Maybe later. I think maybe I'll jist rest a little more, if ya don't mind."

Knowing what I do about after-effects of drugs, I figured rest was what she really needed, so I watched her drift back off to sleep. I said another prayer and decided to eat my breakfast before it got any cooler. 

Mmmm, those eggs and bacon really tasted good, but the coffee was wonderful!

I heard a quiet knocking at the door... 
**************************
(Day thirty-eight)
You can only imagine my surprise when I saw Melvin standing on the other side of the door as he pushed it gently open! I know my mouth must have flown open, along with my eyes. The look on my face must have been priceless. 

The look on his face, however, was one of a person getting ready to "eat crow". He looked like he had aged twenty years overnight. His clothing was rumpled, he needed a shave, and I could tell he had not slept any. I gave him the old 'eagle eye' and said, "Yes?"

"May I come in?" he inquired gently and humbly. "I wouldn't blame you if you refused, but I really do need to speak with you. I will leave the door open, so that you need not be afraid, Anna Belle. My mother has nothing to fear from me, either."


"How...how did you know me? I've never met you, and you've never seen me in person that you knew of." Yes, I certainly was naive to think he could not have figured out who I was. "When did you know it was me?" I asked him.


"Marci spotted you at the dinner last evening. She is a very clever person, but not a very nice one, though." 

("Boy!" I thought, "that was certainly an understatement!")

"Please, may I come in and sit down? I really do need to talk to you."


I indicated with a nod that he could come in and have a seat, then I had a second thought. I didn't know if Lucy should hear what he had to say, what with her being in such a guarded condition.


"Tell ya what, let's take these two straight chairs out inta the hallway, away from Lucy's bed and sit jist outside the door, so's she won't hear us. Okay? We can talk real low and nobody else can hear us, either. I'll still be able ta see Lucy if she needs me, cause I'll be sitting right at the doorway."


We went out quietly into the hallway and sat down. "Okay, Buster, start talkin'," I said.


"First, let me tell you that I've withdrawn my name from the ballot. With all that has happened, I can't in good conscience run for Councilman. While this has been a long night for you and my momma, it has also been a long one for me as well. I have had a soul-searching twelve hours and I didn't like what I saw, when I looked inside myself and realized what I had become."


I couldn't believe my ears! Had Nasty Melvin really changed to Nice Melvin? I had to hear more. 
 ***************************
(Day thirty-nine)
"Last night was a long night for me, and I had a lot of time to reflect over my life, and what I have become as a person. I was worried about my momma, and all that has been taking place concerning her. Just knowing I couldn't see her was awful, what with her being so sick and all. I began questioning Marci right after I got home. We went up one side and down the other. I had my suspicions about what she might have done. She was a chemist when I met her, so she  knows a lot about drugs. Of course, she denied having anything to do with it. Marci has always had great ambitions for me politically. Well, finally, I just went for a drive about four o'clock this morning. I had to think."

Wow! I certainly never expected to be hearing all this from the mouth of Melvin! Was he laying all the blame at Miserable Marci's door? I nodded sympathetically and urged him to go on.

"Well, I came home about five-thirty or so, and saw two police cruisers parked outside my house. The news van was also outside and the microphones were shoved into my face as soon as I got out of my car. I didn't know what had happened. A car from Child Protective Services was also there. That snippy newswoman, Tanya Jane Harlow, was in my face asking what did I think about my wife being arrested for suspicion of attempted murder and did I help her plan it. I didn't say anything except for her to get out of my face. I went inside then and saw the police searching through my house. They presented me with the search warrant.  My children were crying, and standing near a woman who told me she was taking my children into protective custody. I was at my wit's end. Where was my wife? How could all this be happening? How could I explain it to them?"

I was sitting there thinking what the atmosphere must be in that house for raising kids, and what they were learning about life from their parents, especially concerning attitudes toward the elderly and grandparents. You know that the kids had to be picking up on such stuff, and what they were getting was not the solid stuff of good family interaction and respect. Well, Melvin was not finished with his story, so I nodded and encouraged him to continue.

"Well, I tried to stop the CPS from taking my children with them, but when the police told me that I was under suspicion as well, and that when and If I cleared my name, I could get them back and not until then, I didn't fight it any more. They had no one else that I could leave them with. I hugged my two children and told them I would have them back as soon as I could and I left to go to the police station. When I got there, the media were already waiting for me outside the station. I just said 'no comment' and pushed through them. I went inside and spoke to the desk sergeant. He told me that Marci was in custody and had asked for an attorney, and I would have to wait to speak to her. They were getting ready to book her. The police officer did tell me she was being charged with attempted murder and possession of an illegal drug."

"Being an attorney myself, I knew the drill. While I was waiting, I was taken into an interview room and I answered all the questions they had for me. Then they warned me not to leave town. About an hour later, I was able to speak to Marci alone. She told me that she did it all for me, and that my momma was just an albatross around my neck, what with her being an ordinary street person, and she didn't want Momma hanging around our beautiful home, what with her not speaking a proper language, teaching our children who knows what about life. I knew she didn't like my momma, and she has been putting down my momma for the past few years, trying to get me to get her out of our life. Shame on me, I went along with her idea for putting Momma into a nursing home to get her off the streets. My friends had been making jokes about Momma, and I was too weak to stand up for her right to live the way she wanted to. Look where she is now...in that bed, maybe going to die...I just didn't see Marci going this far..." 

He broke down then, sobbing wildly. 

I must admit, I felt kind of sorry for him, but thought what a miserable excuse for a son he was. I felt even more so for my friend, Lucy, who hadn't asked for any of it. Yes, and for his children as well, knowing what they were going to be put through for the sins of their parents. 

 *******************************
 (Day Forty)
Right about then, Melvin's cell phone rang. Wiping his eyes with the back of his right hand, he reached into his coat pocket with his left hand, and stood up. Bringing out his cell phone, he turned to me and said, "Excuse me, I have to take this," and walked a short distance away.

I wondered what was going to happen now...He was nodding his head in agreement with something, and pretty soon was putting the phone back into his pocket. He walked  back over to me and sat down once again in the chair opposite me.

"That was Marci's lawyer...You'll be interested to know that they offered Marci a deal and she is taking it, in order to spare the children the notoriety of a trial and all that would entail. They have offered her fifteen years with a possibility of time off for good behavior. It's a better deal than she deserves, but the children and I will be serving it as well. Marci may have her faults, but she loves the children and was a good homemaker. I believe she really loves me, too, but was just carried away by greed and ambition. I'm sure she didn't really realize what she was doing."

I couldn't believe he was sitting here defending Marci, after what she had done to his momma!

"Could I please come in and see her for a few minutes? I promise not to upset her. Then I need to go and find my children and take them home with me, if Protective Services will let me. The kids must really be wondering about everything, and missing Marci. Oh, and don't worry about Momma's care. I'm arranging for her to stay here until she recovers. I will foot all the bills. She doesn't have anything to fear from us any more. Things are going to be different from now on."

I nodded in agreement to his coming back into the room to see Lucy, and we carried the chairs back in as we went. He went over to the bed and sat down in the bedside chair. Taking Lucy's limp hand in his, he just held it gently and kissed it. She was sleeping peacefully, so he got up then and thanked me again for taking such good care of her. Turning, he headed for the door and promised to come back when Lucy was feeling better. 

Well, Marci was not going to be on trial it seemed, but the jury was still out on Melvin... was he being genuine, or was it all an act? Only time would tell. Lawyers do have to be good at play-acting, don't cha know? That's how they win cases.


 ********************************
(Day Forty-one)
Sitting back in the comfortable easy chair they had put in there for me last night, I was reflecting on all that had taken place. Also, I was hurting in places all over my aging body. Ahhh, that chair felt so very good and my sleep had been non-existent for the last thirty-odd hours. I looked over at Lucy and she was sleeping peacefully. I just closed my eyes and said a quiet "Thank-you" to the Lord. 

The next thing I knew, several hours later, Lieutenant Shannon was leaning over me to see if I was okay. 

"Is this how my officers do protective custody, by just sitting and going to sleep on the job? I'm going to have to fire you, it looks like, Officer Calhoun!" He was speaking low and chuckling softly, of course.


"Oh, hey, Looie! How are ya? What's the latest on the Marci deal?"
I whispered.

Glancing over at Lucy, I saw she was still sleeping. 


"Don't she look peaceful?" I asked him.


"Yes, and I hate that she has been through so much. She doesn't deserve what has been happening. In my opinion, Melvin Wilkins is not much of a man. It is a good thing he pulled out of the race for councilman, because he would have wasted a lot of backer's money if he had continued seeking the position. I don't believe many people would have voted for him. Anyone who would allow their mother to be put through something like this deserves to be tarred and feathered, to my way of thinking."


"Yeah, he was over here earlier this morning, weepin' and moanin' about how Marci had influenced him to be puttin' his mama into a nursin' home, and away from their kids. He shoulda' had the guts ta stand up to 'er a long time ago, and said, 'no way are we gonna treat my momma like that'! Then maybe Marci might not 'a had the nerve ta do what she done. She musta' thought he'd never suspect her and that she'd get away with it. I reckon she figgered he'd rather be councilman than to have his momma a hangin' round. I don't know how I'm goin' to explain it all ta her...She's not gonna understand it, after how good she thought they was a' treatin' her. It's gonna break her heart."


"According to Marci, she claimed she hadn't wanted to kill Lucy, just make her sick enough to be put into a nursing home. She couldn't explain, however, what she was doing over here close to 5 a.m. with the hypodermic needle full of more of the same stuff. When we went to their home, we found a bush growing at the back of  their house called an Angel Trumpet. Its leaves and stems are poisonous and contain a drug called Datura. She had extracted some of the drug and made a liquid that is odorless and tasteless. She put some into the wine that Lucy was drinking before the supper. It might not have had such a bad effect on a younger person, but it was deadly to Lucy. We found the rest of what she had made in a drawer in her bedroom. She's just lucky her kids hadn't found it."

"Well, I guess she figgered the jig was up when you all came in and got her, what with the hypodermic needle and all that she had brought up here with her, tryin' to inject it inta the IV tubin'. I'm jist glad I had them handcuffs on me, and wuz here ta protect Lucy!"

"Yes, she is locked up now, where she can't bring any more harm to our friend here. I guess Melvin will get custody of the children again. There was not any evidence that he knew anything about what Marci was planning or had done. How are you going to tell Lucy?"

"I don't know...I jist don't know... but I'll figger a way to do it. I wanta be the one to tell her. I think it'll be better comin' from me, don't you? I know I'm really tired and I want to see my little Clancy soon. I know Jackie is takin' good care of him, but he's bound ta be wond'rin' where I am. Oh, yeah, Melvin said that he's goin' to pay fer Lucy ta stay in here as long as she needs to till she recovers. I reckon maybe that'd be about two weeks. Wonder if he knows what bein' in a hospital costs these days? Well, if he don't, he's gonna find out, that's fer sure. It'd probably be cheaper ta put her in a high class hotel and have somebody takin' care of her there! Say, now, that's an idea! Wonder how it'd be ta be stayin' in one takin' care a' Lucy? ha."

"Oh, Anna Belle! You just won't do!" chuckled Lieutenant Shannon. I just grinned back at him.  
 ***************************
(Day Forty-Two)
Lieutenant Shannon told me that he had someone else here to take over watching out for Lucy for a few hours. He felt like she was out of danger now as far as someone wanting to do her harm, but for the next twenty four hours he was still providing protective custody, just in case. I thanked him profusely, and he brought in Officer Patricia Haynes, and introduced her to me. She was in plainclothes, so she wouldn't alarm Lucy if she woke up and wondered who she was. Officer Haynes was just to tell her she was a friend of mine, and that Lucy had eaten something that didn't agree with her. She was not to have access to television news, or a newspaper, but be kept quiet and not accessible to news reporters, by any means. 

Then Lieutenant Shannon left us. I took a good gander at Patricia Haynes. She didn't look very old, in fact, she looked quite young and I wasn't sure she'd be able to fight off any body that was bigger than her. She had blonde hair, blue eyes, a smattering of freckles across her pert nose, and an easy smile. She wasn't any taller than I am and I had my doubts about her capabilities, but since the Looie had confidence in her, I reckon I wasn't going to worry too much. 

She smiled at me and asked, "Well? What do you think? Can I handle the job?"

I must have turned every color in the book, 'cause I knew I'd been caught out givin' her the once over. "Reckon so," I smiled back. We understood each other perfectly.

"Good," she replied. "Now, why don't you head on home, and get some rest. I know you don't really have a home to go to, but you can go and get some real rest. I saw your picture in the papers and I've heard stories about you and Lucy. You all are legendary down at the station. I am proud to meet you!"

Well,  you could have blown me over with a feather, literally, I mean. I was that surprised to hear such praise coming from this little gal's mouth. "Gosh! Thank ya', Patricia! I hardly know what ta say. You'll make my head swell up bigger than a balloon with such praise. I'm happy ta' meetcha' too."

I walked over to the bed to check on Lucy one more time. She was still sleeping like an angel, so I turned to leave. I shook Patricia's hand and left my friend in her care and that of the nurses. 

On my way past the nurses' station, I stopped and told them not to let anybody near her, not even Melvin and to write it down on her chart and post a note at their desk to that effect. Also, definitely No Reporters! They assured me that it would be done that way. I left and headed for the elevator.  
 **************************
 (Day Forty-three)
Walking slowly to the elevator, I looked over at the clock on the wall. It was 1:30 in the afternoon, and I had slept through lunch. That wouldn't do at all. I had no money to buy any lunch and no way to get any. Well, I would just have to wait until supper, 'cause after all, I wouldn't starve since I had had a good breakfast. They must have brought in a tray while I was asleep and then removed it when they saw it wasn't being eaten. Darn! I hated to miss a meal. Ha.

Riding down silently, reflecting on everything that had happened over the past seventeen or so hours, I decided it was almost unbelievable, but it had taken place. Uh-oh, exiting the elevator on the ground floor, who should I see, hovering about looking for someone to interview, but a lone reporter. I recognized the hungry look on his face, and I don't mean he was looking for lunch. He saw me in my police uniform, carrying my poncho, and headed for me. What should I do... answer questions, or say 'no comment'? He must have been posted there by Tanya Jane Harlow.


Holding his cell phone to his ear, and talking a mile a minute, he ran over to me.  Flipping the phone shut,  he asked, "Officer, have you just come from guarding Melvin Wilkins' mother? How is she doing? What can you tell me? Say! You're not a real officer! You're Anna Belle Chasteen, her friend! Wow! Impersonating a police officer! Can't you be charged for that? What do you have to say?"


I immediately went into my helpless little old lady mode and pretended to be faint... "Oh, my, could you please get me a drink 'a orange juice, then I can talk to you! I feel so weary 'n'  tired after a long night of watchin' over my friend. My energy is jist gone and disappeared. I could maybe give you an exclusive. Please, may I have some water or juice or somethin' ?"


"Okay, Okay! Just sit here on this chair, and I'll bring you some orange juice! Don't move, now! I'll be right back!"


I happened to know that the only juice machine was in the cafeteria and the cafeteria was closed between 1:30 and 5:00 p.m.. He'd have to go a ways to get the juice or even a cup for water. Forgetting about how tired I was, I headed out the door and down the street and was soon out of sight of the hospital.


Being a street person, I knew all the back ways to travel. Keeping to the back streets, I got back to the Mission about 25 minutes later. Entering by the rear door, I was pleased to see Pastor Joe in his office. 
*************************************
(Day Forty-four)
Knocking on the door to his office, seeing his nod, I entered and flopped down in the easy chair near his desk. Pastor Joe stopped writing and lay down his pen. Leaning back in his chair, he eyed the police uniform I had on, then smiled and asked how I was doing and what was the latest on Lucy Mae.

"Well, I reckon maybe she is goin' ta survive, Brother Joe, but it was nip 'n' tuck fer awhile, don't cha know?" (I call him Brother because he's a Christian brother as well as my pastor.) "She was lookin' better when I left a while ago, and them reporters are busy tryin' ta get a story outta us. Of course, that's their job, I reckon. Still, they don't have ta be so pushy all the time. I jist left one a while ago, runnin' ta get me a drink of orange juice. Have ta be kinda tricky to avoid 'em. Ha."

"How about Melvin and Marci? I just heard on the radio that they arrested Marci for trying to murder her mother-in-law right there in the hospital. I hear you cuffed her, too. Ha! I'm so glad you were there to protect her. She's had a hard life, and she doesn't deserve relatives like that. Makes me wonder how much Melvin knew of Marci's plans, or realized what she is capable of. Ambition can sometimes bring out the worst in people; I know.  I used to have ambitions to be pastor of a Megachurch, until I realized that wasn't where God wanted me to be. It nearly destroyed me and my family. I'm glad I realized it in time."

Well, that was something about Pastor Joe that I hadn't heard before. That must be some story; I'd love to hear about it some time. Well, anyway, I needed to see my little Clancy after I talked to the pastor. 

"Yeah, they are bypassin' a trial and she has accepted a deal for fifteen years in prison, and they have given Melvin the benefit of the doubt (couldn't find any hard evidence that he knew anything about the attempt on Lucy's life) and he is gettin' custody of his children from Child Protective Services. He prob'ly has them with him already. Lieutenant Shannon is providin' protective custody for the next twenty four hours for Lucy, and Lucy was asleep when I left her. Oh, I saw you eyin' my police uniform.... yeah, I borrowed it from the community theater wardrobe and I'll be havin' to get it cleaned somehow, and returnin' it to 'em soon. Don't know how I'm gonna afford it, but I'll manage somehow. Maybe Melvin will pay to get it cleaned. He owes me big time, don't cha' know, fer savin' his mama."

I heard a barking at the office door, and knew it had to be my little buddy, Clancy. Going over to the door, I opened it and leaned down. Clancy jumped into my arms and commenced to licking my face all over. I felt like kissing him, but restrained myself. I did hug him pretty good though. It had only been about eighteen or so hours since I had seen him, but it seemed like forever!

Looking up at Cookie Jack, who was standing there with a big grin on his face, I grinned back. Standing up, I hugged him, and standing on my tippy toes, I reached up and grabbed his head, pulling it down and kissed him on both his cheeks. 

"Thank ya, Jackie! It was so sweet of ya ta take such good care of my little buddy here! I don't know what I would do without cha'."

He just grinned so big, it made my heart swell, knowing I have such wonderful friends! I knew, too, that Lucy was going to be getting better, but her recovery was going to take a while and I was going to have to find a way to make a little money. I needed to help Cookie Jack, too. Hmmm. Maybe I could do both at the same time, you reckon?
*********************************
(Day Forty-five)
Going back over to Pastor Joe, I explained to him that Lucy and I  had made an appointment with a lawyer for today around three o'clock and it must be close to that right now. I asked him to please look up her number for me, if he would. I gave him her name, Sherri Gambini, and waited while he looked for it in the phone directory. He called the number out to me and I dialed it.


"Hello, Mz. Gambini? This is Anna Belle Chasteen, and we, Lucy and I, were supposed to come back and talk with ya today, but you may know that she is in the hospital right now. Ya do? Well, I reckon we may jist have ta contact ya later ag'in, if that's okay? It is? Great! I'm sorry, but things have drastic'ly changed, don't cha know? Right now, we're jist not sure what is gonna happen. Yes. I'll come in some time soon and have a chat with ya, when  ya have the time. Thank ya for your trouble. Bye now."


Jackie had come into the office and was sitting in one of the occasional chairs. I turned to him and asked what he thought about maybe working a few hours a day during the week for his Uncle Hank. I told him about an idea I had concerning his uncle. I figured maybe I could help his uncle with his book-keeping since I knew how to do that. I had helped my Billy with his books when he had a business, and my experience with that would come in handy. If Jackie could work in the shop during the same time, then I could make sure his cousins didn't bully him around, maybe. I believed I could put the "fear of the Lord" inta them, so to speak. That way I could see if his uncle was an honest man, and make a few dollars a week. It would certainly be easier than picking up cans and bottles for pennies to use for laundry and occasional sundry needs. 


"Say, AnnieBee, that would be great! I really like workin' with motors 'n' stuff. Uncle Hank says I'm good with 'em, too. Let's go see him, okay?"


"Well, I tell ya, Jackie, right now, I'm jist too tired ta be traipsin' over there, but we can do it tomorrow, okay? I need to eat supper and then I need a good night's rest. Tomorrow we'll go see Lucy Mae and then go to see your uncle. Does that sound like a plan?"


"Yes, oh yes, it does, AnnieBee. Thank you so very much! I think I'll go look at today's newspaper and read about you and Lucy ag'in." Jackie got up and left, leaving me with Pastor Joe and Clancy. 


Pastor Joe looked at me with concern on his face. He had heard me talking about Hank Jones and I could see he was wondering about the wisdom of Jackie and me takin' on the jobs at the body shop. 

"Are you sure you really want to do this, Anna Belle? What if they are running a crooked place of business? Do you want your name associated with it, if it is? Are you stepping into deep water here? Have you any idea what you might be getting into?"

"Well, now, I reckon if I jist kinda feel my way around it, it won't hurt anything. I ain't too worried about it. If it works out the way I want it to, it could be a good thing fer Jackie, and help me a little bit, too. Besides, I'll keep my eyes open fer trouble, and I'll be able ta keep Clancy with me. He can be a regular little menace when he sees I'm in trouble, don't cha' know?"

"Okay, AnnaBee, whatever you say... But know that I'm going to be praying for you and Jackie to be safe. Besides, you don't know yet whether Hank will agree to what you wish to do."

I thanked Pastor Joe and headed out into the big room where a few people were beginning to gather in anticipation of supper. Of course, it was early yet, but I saw several regulars that had come in from the streets and they were just sitting around talking to one another. A few of them waved to me, and I walked over to talk to them. I needed to rest a bit more before supper, but I knew that if I didn't keep talking, I'd sit there and go to sleep. 
*******************************
 (Day Forty-six)
Around five p.m. people began lining up for supper, and dragging myself out of my chair after chatting with some of my friends, I got into line behind Cookie Jack. He was all excited about going to see his uncle and I promised him that first thing in the morning, after breakfast, we were going to visit Lucy Mae, then we would walk over and speak to his Uncle Hank. I could barely keep my eyes open as I sat there eating, and slipping some food down to Clancy. The cook had given him a small bone to chew on, and he was quite happy. We were lucky that the Mission permitted me to keep Clancy with me, fer shure!

Later that evening, as I tucked myself into the cot in the ladies dorm, I reached down and patted Clancy on the head, and then thanked the Lord for a place to sleep and food to eat. I thought of all the people just in the United States that had no assurance of a place to lay their heads and felt so very blessed. There were nights that the Mission was full before I got back to it, and those nights were spent sometimes in the cold or rainy conditions, with no food in my stomach or in Clancy's. 

Next morning, when I went out into the commons area, Jackie was waiting for me. I couldn't help smiling at his enthusiasm and eagerness to be out and about. My joints felt kinda creaky and I admonished Jackie to just take it easy, don't cha know? Breakfast was oatmeal and toast, so I knew the budget must be running low. No eggs or bacon were visible;  no biscuits and gravy appeared. It was nearing the end of the month when the larder gets low. Still, I was grateful for what we had, and told the Lord so. There was still good hot coffee!

As we ate, I told Jackie that I'd been thinking and he needed to let me do the talking when we got to his uncle's body shop if it was okay with Jackie. He indicated that was okay with him. I think he would probably have agreed to just about anything in order to have our plan work out. 

We got up and took our trays back to the window. I told Jackie we needed to offer some help in cleaning up the kitchen if that was okay with him. He looked a little disappointed that we wouldn't be rushing right off, but agreed it would be a good thing, he reckoned.

I told Clancy to stay in the dining room out of the way and Jackie and I went into the kitchen to scrape trays and dunk them in the dishwater. That water for washing the trays and silverware was really hot, and took some getting used to. I washed the trays and Jackie rinsed them and stacked them. Someone else would dry them and put them away. Before long, they were finished and we were able to collect Clancy and leave for the hospital. 

The weather was quite warm, and we were happy to be out and about. 

"Say, Jackie, slow down a bit, I can't keep up with your long steps, don't cha know?"

"Oh, sorry, AnnieBee, I jist can't help it. Wonder how Lucy is today? I hope she is feelin' much better, don't you? I hope she's awake. I really wanta' see her. I miss her."

"Well, we'll soon see for ourselves how she's doin', Jackie. I can't wait to see her, either."

About twenty-five minutes later we arrived at the hospital. Looking around, I saw that the reporters were not standing and waiting for anyone, so  I was glad for that. They must already be onto another news story, thank goodness!

"Now, Jackie," I said to him in the elevator, "be nice and calm when we are talking to Lucy; we don't want to excite her any because she's been through a bad ordeal, and I'm not sure how much she knows of what has happened to her. So don't spill any beans to her. I may be going to have to take some time to explain to her. So, 'mum's the word', okay?"


"Sure, AnnieBee, whatever you say.. I won't say anything except how glad I am to see she's feeling better."


When we knocked on the door and entered the room, I couldn't believe my eyes!
*********************************
(Day Forty-seven)
Lucy's room was a riot of colors... flowers were everywhere. She was sitting up in bed, eating breakfast, with a police woman sitting in the chair beside her. Where had all the flowers come from? 

Cookie Jack said, "AnnieBee, look at that! I've never seen so many flowers in one place before except in a garden. Who sent them all? Lucy, you're sittin' up! You're all better!"

Going over to Lucy Mae, I hugged her and the policewoman got up and gave me her chair so I could sit close to Lucy. It was a different policewoman than Patricia that I met the day before. She smiled at me and nodded her head to indicate that she recognized me. Jackie was accepted as a visitor because he came with me.

Lucy looked at me, sadly, acknowledging without speaking that she knew what Marci had done, and had accepted it. My heart was breaking for my friend, but I put on a smile and asked how she was doing. 

"I'm doin' all right, AnnaBelle, it's hard ta take, my son bein' married ta such a woman, and him bein' such a weaklin', lettin' her run his life the way she did. I reckon maybe part of it is my doin', I could jist never say no ta anything he wanted when he was growin' up. Me 'n' his dad would try ta get him whatever he asked for, even if it meant scrimpin' and savin' ta do it. We sent him to college and university without him havin' ta get a job, and help hisself through school. We wanted him ta have all the advantages. Now look at him... look at me... it makes me wonder how different things woulda been, if he'd been made ta do more for hisself. He might not 'a' picked out a woman like he did, and I wouldn't a' been out on the streets fendin' for myself."

"I reckon maybe you're right, my friend. I sure don't know what I'd a done, though, without you as my good buddy. I probably never would 'a' met ya if things had been different. I know that things happen fer a reason, maybe we jist never will know, but we do know that God is in control of the universe, and He's takin' care of us. I'm so grateful that you are feelin' better. Don't be so hard on yerself! Hindsight is always better than foresight, don't cha know? Now, I wanta look at all these flowers and see who sent 'em to ya."

I got up and wandered around the room, thinkin' about how Lucy must have found out about Marci. Ah! I'll bet our talkative nurse friend, Flora,  had been up to see Lucy. I figure she didn't know that Lucy was supposed to be kept in the dark, figuratively. I was glad to see that she was being kept literally in a dimmed room as well, since her eyes were going to be sensitive to light for several days to come.

Looking at the cards on the flowers, I saw that several were from her son and grandchildren. Also there were flowers from Pastor Joe, and, surprisingly, Jackie's Uncle Hank had sent some as well. There was a bouquet from Lieutenant Shannon and the guys down at the station house. Oh my goodness! A small bouquet from the people down at the Mission was there. They had put their pennies and nickels, and other coins together and bought it for their friend, Lucy. There was another set of flowers from Sherri Gambini, the attorney.

With tears flowing down my cheeks, I went over to Lucy Mae, and asked, "Can you doubt how much you are loved, when you look at this outpourin' of affection evidenced by all these flowers, my friend?" I hugged her, and watched her face change from sadness to one of joy.

"I jist couldn't believe it when I seen all them flow'rs comin' in fer me, AnnieBee! I thought there had ta be a mistake!"

"Oh, it's no mistake, Lucy! Never doubt that you are loved! Now, we gotta get you better and outta this place. I miss havin' my buddy with me n' Clancy, here." Clancy looked up at Lucy and yipped.

Lucy reached down and patted him on the head. "It seems like I been in here forever, ya' know!"

"I miss ya, too, Lucy Mae," spoke up Jackie. "We took up a collection yesterday down at the Mission, 'n' almost everybody gave some money ta' send ya flowers. We wuz really worried about ya, cause we all know how drugs can kill a body, since we seen lotsa people die from 'em. We're jist glad ta see ya gettin' better!"

************************
 (Day Forty- eight)
"I want to see my son; we need ta talk. I've asked the nurses to call him for me. He should be here pretty soon. It's time for him ta face the music and jist explain ta me what was in his head over the past few months. He's got things to account ta me for, and he needs ta do it today."

"Wow!" I thought. This was a different Lucy than I had seen before. She was going to make Melvin defend his actions. This should be really good! Was I going to get to see it take place? My mouth almost drooled at the thought of it, but I knew it would be in really bad taste to stay and watch. She would surely tell me the outcome later on, I hoped. 

"Would you like to be alone with Melvin, or should I stay and make sure no harm comes to you?"

"No, you had better go, my friend, because there are things I really need to say to him privately. But thanks for offering to stay; he won't hurt me physically, and I can deal with anything he might have to say to me. It would be nice if you could come back later on today, though, so you and I can talk."

Well, I reckon I would just have to wait until later to find out what she had to tell me. I had a feeling that Old Melvin was going to get a raking over the coals like he'd never had before. Ha. 

In the meantime, Jackie was chomping at the bit to go see his Uncle Hank. So, after giving Lucy a hug and a pat on the hand, we left for the other side of town. 

Jones and Sons Body Shop was on the outskirts of town, not too far from the city dump. It was not in what you would exactly term a great neighborhood and I sure wouldn't want to be walking through it in a late evening. It was out where the noise from banging on metal would not bother anyone.

As we entered the shop, Hank was in his office and his two sons were lounging around the coke machine. Let's see now... what were their names??? Oh, yeah, Mickey and Mike, the twin terrors looked like they were ready to rumble. They stood up and strolled over toward us. 


"Hey,  little Cousin... How's it a-going, anyway? Have ya come ta work? Haw, haw, haw!" This came from Mickey as he punched Jackie on the shoulder. 


Jackie just grinned and rubbed his shoulder. I knew it had to hurt. I also knew Jackie had to start standing up for himself. I couldn't do it for him. I was going to have to give him a pep talk. I realized I should have already done so. My bad! Well, we needed first to see if Jackie and I could get Hank to agree to our proposal. I went into the office and left Jackie with "the boys".


"Hello, Miz Anna Belle, how are you doin' today? Say, is your friend feelin' better? I hope so; she seemed like a nice lady the day you all came over."

"Yes, thank ya, Mr. Jones. She got the flow'rs you sent and she was right pleased with 'em. The reason that me 'n' Jackie came over ta see ya today is that we'd kinda like ta work for ya a few hours a week, maybe three hours each day. We wouldn't want a lot 'a pay for it. I can do books, 'cause I kept my husband's account books when he wuz in bizness, and kept 'em good. They always balanced and he depended on me. I'd not want more than maybe twenty dollars a week. It'd be enough to where I wouldn't have ta get out every day and hunt for bottles and cans ta sell. I'd have enough that way ta keep my laundry done, and maybe have a cup of coffee when I was out and about. As you know, Jackie is real good with motors, and he'd be worth a lot more. He would jist work when I wuz here, because he kinda looks out for me when we're out travelin' around, don't cha know... I figger he would be worth at least fifteen dollars an hour, and that'd be a bargain. I see ya got lots a cars in the shop that look like they need workin' on."

"Well, I don't know, Mz. Anna Belle... fifteen an hour seems like an awful lot. Tell you what, let's make it twelve, fifty an hour and you got a deal. Of course, I'll have to take FICA and Social Security outta his wages, so he'll only be gettin' about ten an hour take home. That's a lot for somebody that don't know anything about managing money. Are you goin' to be helpin' him with that?"

"Oh, yes, you'd better believe it! Don't worry about it. Me 'n' Jackie'll work it all out," I replied. "Why don't I take a look at your books right now. I'll see what kind of a system you use."

"Er... uh... why don't we just wait until later this week. I have some place I have to be in a few minutes, and I need to take the boys with me. We... uh... we have an appointment to keep. Okay?" 

"Well, sure... we'll see you day after tomorrow, then. We'll be here around nine a.m. after breakfast. Do you have a uniform for Jackie, so's he don't get grease on his clothes?"


"Yeah, he's about the same size as my boys; I'll get one from the closet for him. Here you go." 


Hank Jones handed me a clean uniform and I called out to Jackie that we had to go. Jackie came out of the work area, looking a little bit frazzled, but smiling.
******************************
 (Day Forty-nine)
Jackie was real excited when we left and I wondered what had happened while I was talking to his uncle. I told him we would be coming back in a couple of days to work for his uncle. He informed me that his cousins tried to bully him around, but he stood up to them. My goodness, I was so very proud of him and told him so. I asked him what had changed.

"Well, AnnieBee, I took a look at myself in the mirror this morning, and gave myself a pep talk. I looked at how tall I am and how big my body is, with broad shoulders and muscles in my arms and I just decided I could take them on, at least one at a time, and maybe both of them at once if I needed to. Ya know, they are not any bigger than I am."

I nearly fell over, I was that surprised by his answer... and proud! My Jackie was maturing (and about time) in his thinking. I suppose with all the stuff that had happened in his life, it was making him take a long look at his life and where it was heading. He certainly was not dumb, even though he gave that appearance. His naivete made people think he didn't have much in the upstairs to work with, but be not fooled, my friends; he was quite quite intelligent. I was just beginning myself, to see how smart he was. 

"That is wonderful, Jackie, my boy! I am so glad ya finally realized that ya don't have ta let them bully ya around! Good for you!" Now let's go share your good news with Pastor Joe and we might even stop in and see Lieutenant Shannon on our way. Come along, Clancy! We need ta make tracks!"


Clancy trotted along beside us and every once in awhile he would run over to the trees along the way and sprinkle them generously, then run back to us. I kept him on a long enough leash, so he could feel kinda free. It wasn't long enough for him to get run over by a car, though. I couldn't stand it to lose my little buddy.

The day was a little cloudy, but warm, and it looked like more rain might be in the offing. After all, it was summer in the South and rain was always a real possibility. Looking up at the sky, I noted the low clouds over to the west. We quite often got our rain after it hit some of those states. 

"We'd better get a move on, Jackie, who knows when the rain might begin ta drizzle on us."

We hurried on and soon reached the police station. I was curious to see how the case Jackie had been involved in was coming along. We went up the steps and into the station. Walking over to the desk, I hailed the sergeant on duty. 

"Hey, Sgt.  Hamilton, how's it goin'? Caught any criminals today? Oh, I reckon you can't since you're stuck behind that desk. Ha. Jist a jokin', don't cha know! Is Lieutenant Shannon in or is he out on a call?"

"Hi, AnnieBee, hello, Jackie. Yeah, he's upstairs; I'll call up and see if he can talk to you right now. He's with somebody else." Picking up the phone, he buzzed the Lieutenant's office. "There's some citizens down here wanting to see ya, Lieutenant. Yeah, you know who is champin' at the bit to talk to ya. Okay, I'll give him time to get out before I send 'em up." 

Sgt. Hamilton stood up and looked over the edge of the desk. "Hey, Clancy. Ya caught any criminals lately? Ha ha!" 


Clancy just looked up at him and yipped. 


I was wondering who the Lieutenant had been talking to that he didn't want us to see. Must be one of his undercover men; I figure whoever it was would be going out the back door into the alleyway. Oh well, it couldn't concern us, anyway.


We heard footsteps coming down the stairway. The Looie came around the corner and said, "What can I do for you all? AnnaBelle, you recovered from your 'undercover' work? You look a little rested up from what your protective replacement reported to me this morning. She said you looked like you'd been pulled through a knothole."


"Well, I ain't as young as I useta' be, ya know," I grinned. "But I'm doin' okay, now, I reckon. We was wantin' ta know about the case against Gloria Simmons. When is it goin' ta trial?" 
***********************************
(Day Fifty)
"Well, AnnieBee, I think we can close the books on that one, because she has taken a plea deal, and is going away for life without parole. She is a blackmailer and a murderer, and has no real hope of getting out. She's also been declared a little nuttier than a fruitcake. She'll feel right at home with all the inmates where she's gone. You'll never have to worry about her again."

"Whew! Now that is one big relief, Lieutenant. Ain't it, Jackie?"

"Oh, yeah, it sure is! Say, Lieutenant, guess what? I'm goin' ta be workin' at my Uncle Hank's Body Shop later on this week! An' he's goin' ta be payin' me, too! Annie's goin' ta' be keepin' some books for him while I'm workin'. Ain't that excitin'?"

Turning to me, Lieutenant Shannon had a look of true concern on his face. "Oh, really??? AnnieBee, are you sure you all want to do that? Do you really know anything about Hank Jones? After all, his shop is in a rough part of town. Do you think it's going to be safe for you and Clancy? Have you really thought this through?"

I could tell something was not quite sitting well with him; why would this worry him? After all, he knew I walked quite often through that neighborhood, picking up bottles and cans. what did he know that I didn't know?

Smiling at him, I kidded him a little... "Now, Looie, don't get'cher pants in a twist; there ain't nothin' gonna happen ta us. You know we can take keer of ourselves, don't cha? Are ya thinkin' that we're gonna run inta a bunch a thieves 'er somethin'?"

"Just promise me you'll all be careful; keep your eyes open and if you see or notice anything that doesn't seem quite right, let me know at once. I'm going to give you a disposable cell phone to keep with you while you're working there. Anything suspicious that you see, call me. My number will be programmed into it. Okay?" He reached into the desk where Sgt. Hamilton was working, and pulled out a cell phone.

Oh, my! I could see he was truly serious about it; so, taking the cell phone, along with a charger, I promised him we would keep our eyes open. I thanked him for his concern and he gave me a hug. Wow! What were Jackie and I walking into, anyway? I hugged him back, and he congratulated us on our new jobs, cautioning me to keep the phone charged up, then, after patting Clancy on the head,  he walked back upstairs.

What was that all about, I wondered...

We left the station after telling Sgt. Hamilton goodbye; still we were wondering about the Looie's strange admonitions. 

"AnnieBee, didn't the Lieutenant seem kinda strange the way he was takin' on about us workin' fer my uncle? I reckon we won't be tellin' my uncle about the cell phone, will we?"

"No, Jackie, definitely not. Somethin' is goin' on in Lt. Shannon's head, fer shure, and that means we're gonna have ta keep our eyes open while we're there. Mum's the word, my boy, mum's the word."

We were heading back in the direction of the hospital. I wanted to see if Lucy had seen Melvin yet. Surely, by now he had been there and gone. Hopefully, we wouldn't run into him. 

Sure enough, by the time we got there, he had been there and left. When we walked into Lucy's room, she looked at us and smiled. I could tell she was feeling much better. I picked up Clancy and carried him over to her bed. Sitting down in the chair next to her, and holding Clancy on my lap, I said, "Well? Ya look better. Did ya have a little chat with Melvin, then? I know I'm bein' nosy, but ya are my good friend, and I want ta hear how it went with him, if you're willin' ta share."

"Yes, AnnaBelle, it went real well. I told him that I wanted ta come home with him and recuperate there. I want ta get ta know my grandkids and fer them ta get ta know me, so's they'll learn that jist cause I'm a street person, that don't mean that I'm worthless. Then I aim ta come back out and live like I wanta live. If he tries ta have me committed, I'm takin' HIM ta court! I don't have ta live in fear of what he might decide ta do. In addition ta that, when I wanta come 'n' see my grandkids, I'm gonna come 'n' see 'em. That's what I told him."

I knew my mouth was hanging open, so I shut it and just looked at her in amazement. I had never known my friend, in the three years we had been friends, to ever speak up like that. Then I began clapping my hands. 

"Good fer you! I wish I coulda seen it! What did he say?"

"He said, 'yes, ma'am', jist like I taught him to, when he was a little boy," she smiled.

I hugged my friend, and then I saw her door open. The orderly was bringing her lunch tray in. When he saw me and Cookie Jack, he said he had a couple of extra trays that belonged to people who had gone home that morning and would we like to have them. I replied that would be wonderful. So he returned with them. 

Cookie Jack, Lucy Mae, and I, dug in and had a really good lunch. I slipped some to Clancy, so he wouldn't feel left out. 

"Say, this is like a real celebration dinner, ain't it?" Cookie Jack remarked. Clancy yipped a "yes" and we all laughed.Things were definitely looking up for us.
  
(END OF SEGMENT) Be watching for upcoming segment called, "Cookie Jack's Adventure"   

4 comments:

mybabyjohn/Delores said...

Oh good...we're back in story mode.

Lynn Proctor said...

it's a sad one so far--but good!

Grammy said...

:)

Grammy said...

Yeah, it makes me so sad, I wanta' cry when I write it.