As we walked back, Mr. Hopkins told us that they were not planning on marriage until after we get Marie and Lester back from wherever they were. The reason he asked us was so we could just be getting used to the idea of the marriage hopefully eventually taking place.
"You and I really need to get to know one another much better," he went on, "but I did want you both to know that I love your mother and respect her greatly. And we wanted you two to be aware of our feelings for each other."
Rosie and I walked along, not saying anything, but thinking a lot. I had certainly been aware of his liking our Ma, and I was pretty sure that Rosie had as well.
"You say you have hired a detective to look for Les and Marie? Where is he looking, anyway? What is he doing?"
"For one thing, he has gone to watch your grandmother O'Hanlon's house to see if there is any indication that she took them. Your mother still believes that she is behind their disappearance. I have every confidence that he will locate them."
I still had some plans of my own to look for them, but of course, did not relay them to him or Rosie.
As soon as we reached home, Rosie ran to her room and slammed the door. There was no doubt as to what her feelings were. My Ma looked at me expectantly.
just stood for a few minutes, looking at my Ma and then Mr. Hopkins,
saying nothing except, "I don't know, Ma. I got a lotta thinking to
do." Then I went to my room and sat down on the edge of my bed. What
was I going to do? I felt lower than a hound dog under a porch, waiting
for a next meal. My life was in a shambles; tomorrow was my eleventh
birthday and no one was even going to remember it. Would my Ma even
remember with her mind full of worrying about my siblings and thinking
about marrying Mr. Hopkins? I didn't think so.
back on the bed, my mind went back to the plan of getting to where my
Grandma lived in Kentucky. I could take a bus, and it wouldn't cost as
much as traveling by train. I might have enough to get there. I would
need to get my hands on the information so I could figure it out. I
figured I was smarter than a detective when It came to my Grandma. My Ma
was so filled with thoughts of marriage that she wouldn't even miss me
til I was on the bus and gone. I thought I was getting it all planned
Pretty soon, I was dozing off and went to sleep, making my plans.
awakened the next morning to the sound of a sparrow on my window sill.
He had a winged seed from a Maple tree in our yard. He was using his
beak to break the seed out of the husk which contained it. Again and
again, relentlessly, he would drop it and pick it up, picking at it,
until finally he succeeded. I lay there watching him.
I watched him, I remembered something I had read from the book of
Matthew in my little testament about God knowing even when a sparrow
falls and how He cares even for them. Jesus said how much more God cares
for us. I realized then that God knew where my brother and sister were,
and maybe He would help me find them. I was sure in that moment that He
was taking care of them.
bowed my head and thanked Him. Then I got up and after getting dressed
and using the bathroom, washing my hands, I went into the kitchen to
have my bowl of cereal before school.
Much to my surprise I saw my Ma at the stove, making breakfast.
"Ma! What are you doing at home? Why aren't you at work? Don't you have to work today?"
She turned to me and smiled.
"Now what?" I asked myself. "What's going on, Ma?"
Birthday, son! Have a seat, and have some breakfast. I made your
favorite breakfast: waffles and bacon. I'll go get your sister up so
that we can all have breakfast together."
Pretty soon, I could hear shouting coming from Rosie's bedroom. Rosie was screaming from the top of her lungs.
could you? And Da not even cold in his grave yet! He's only been gone a
couple of months and here you are, wearing a ring from
that...that...man! I don't know who you are anymore! I wish I had left
when Grandma did! At least she loved my Da! Go away! I don't want any breakfast!"
A ring? On Ma's hand? What kind of ring? I jumped up and met Ma coming out of Rosie's room.
face was white and she was trembling all over. I grabbed her left hand
and looked at the shiny stone in the ring, then looked into her face.
"I thought...I thought you were going to wait.." I stammered.
only an engagement ring. We are waiting. Oh, son, please don't look at
me that way... He is a good man... when you get to know William, you
will see that. We're going to find Les and Marie before we get married.
You'll see, it will all turn out good for all of us."
Turning away, I said to myself, "Happy Birthday, Zebulon Seamus O'Hanlon!"
sat down to eat my favorite breakfast, but it tasted like ashes must
taste, and I could not finish it. I got up from the table and went over
to my Ma, who was standing at the sink, crying.
thank you for the special breakfast; please don't cry.. I know things
will work out. We have to trust, don't we? Isn't that what the preacher
said on Sunday?"
yes, Zebbie! Thank you, son. I love you so much, and I'm only trying to
do what is best for all of us." She hugged me close to her, and I
hugged her back.
didn't quite understand how her getting married would be best for us,
but I said nothing more except that I had to get to school and that I
loved her too.
could hardly wait for school to be over that day. I had things to do
after school. Of course, the teacher made a big commotion about it being
my birthday, and I got lots of wishes for a good birthday, but also
some taunts from kids who knew my Ma was working for Mr. Hopkins, and I
realized their mothers must have been talking bad stuff about her. It
dawned on me then that I had no idea about how they acted at the store.
Did he ever put his arm around her in front of people?
Just one more thing for me to think about. After school, I headed out to fulfill my mission.
leaving the school grounds, I headed for the train depot. I was
beginning my own detective work, and I was following my instincts.
the depot, I headed for the ticket agent's window. My chin just barely
reached the ledge of the window and I had to clear my throat for the
agent to turn around and see me.
over to the window, he smiled and said, "Yes, sonny, how can I help
you? Are you running away from home, maybe?" He clearly thought he was
sir, but I am looking for someone that you may have seen recently, say
about ten days ago?" I held out the picture of my family that was taken
on Lester's birthday about four months earlier. "I'm looking for these
two children. They are my brother and sister and they disappeared from
the school yard."
yeah, I heard about that. In fact, a man was in here a couple of days
ago inquiring about them, but he didn't have a picture of them."
looked closely at the picture, and called over the guard that worked in
the depot. "Hey, Harry, come and look at this photo the kid has. Do you
remember seeing these two youngest kids here a couple of weeks ago?"
they were kicking up a rusty, yelling at some old lady that had 'em.
Wantin' ta go home. She took them by the hand and told them somethin'
about their Ma wantin' them ta go with her for awhile for a little visit
on her farm. She was promising them somethin' special that she had
waitin' for them."
"Yes, yes... that must have been her!! What did she look like? Was she real tall and had on a black hat and black coat?"
Harry rubbed his chin in thought... "Well, yeah, I think she did."
"Thanks! Oh, say, listen, one more question...has anyone else been in here asking about two missing kids?"
ticket agent thought a minute and said, "Cops are always coming in
asking about runaways, but other than the cops, I don't remember anyone.
How about you, Harry?"
I don't recall nobody coming in asking lately. I hope ya find 'em, kid!
That old lady looked like the beatin' kind. I hope they're okay."
"Oh, I'm sorry, I do have just one more question. Do you, by any chance, remember where she bought the tickets to go to?"
"Some little town in Kentucky, I believe. Some whistle stop."
knew then that my grandmother had them! The so-called detective hadn't
even been in to check on them. Those sharp-eyed men in the depot would
have remembered! Now, the question was: Had Mr. Hopkins really hired a
detective...or if he had, was the detective doing anything to earn his
money? I needed to find out. I headed to the grocery store.
the grocery store, I saw my Ma at the cash register, taking a
customer's money and waved to her. Going past her, I headed to the rear
of the store, where I saw Mr. Hopkins behind the meat counter, talking
to one of his customers, while waiting on them. They were smiling and
joking around. Then he looked up and saw me approaching, the smile
becoming, what seemed to me, a little less genuine, but broader.
"Hey, Zeb, what can I do for you? Oh, Happy Birthday! You're eleven today, aren't you?"
"Thank you, sir. Hello, Mr. Brown. Yes, sir. Could I speak to you privately, sir? I need to ask you something important."
"Of course, Zeb. Come back to my office."
Passing the wrapped package of meat to Mr. Brown, he led the way back to his office and closed the door.
the chair facing his desk, he asked me to sit and continue. I cleared
my throat nervously, and searched for the right words to say.
on, boy! Out with it. What is it you want to speak to me about? Have
you decided in favor of our marriage? Is that what this secret meeting
is all about?"
He began smiling again.
"Uh...no, sir, it isn't that. I'd like to meet the detective you hired to find Marie and Lester, if you don't mind."
jumped up from the edge of the desk where he had been sitting and
exclaimed, "What? Why in the world would you want to do that? You know I
will report any findings he makes, don't you? So far he hasn't found
any trace of them. I'm sorry, young man, you need to leave such business
to grown ups."
had failed the test. I knew then that the detective either didn't exist,
or that he wasn't doing the job he should have been doing. One more
test should do it.
"Well, at least, do you have a report from him?"
Apparently, he had second thoughts about my original request and said, "Okay, son. You win."
He picked up a file folder from his desk, and handed it to me.
opened it. It contained a simple page that said so far the detective
had no leads on the two missing children. I glanced at the heading, and
saw "Lincoln Detective Agency" at the top.
I smiled at him and said, "Thank you, sir, for trusting me with this." I knew now that I had two choices.
I could tell him what I had found out, or I could have the Lincoln
Detective Agency checked out. I decided to do the latter, and to go see
my friend, Sgt. Finley.
at the cash register to speak to my Ma, I hugged her and told her I
would see her later; that Mr. Hopkins and I had been speaking
man-to-man. At that information, she lifted her eyebrows, her mouth
making a moue. Then she smiled and replied, "Okay, son. I love you."
on my way, thoughts kept tumbling through my mind, questions that I
could not hold at bay. Was Ma right in wanting to marry Mr. Hopkins? If
she did, what kind of step-father would he be? Strict? What would he
expect from me? Then the realization dawned upon me that I was going to
accept the marriage. I was already thinking in terms of what if! I had
to find out more before I agreed to the union.
pedaled my bicycle furiously, getting to the station as quickly as I
could to try to catch the Sgt. before he might have left for the day.
Even at that, I wasn't sure he would still be working. I parked my bike
in the bike stand provided in front of the station and ran up the steps.
My heart was pounding loudly in my throat as I opened the heavy door to
the station house. I rushed right into the arms of Sgt. Beason, the cop
who worked with Sgt. Finley.
"Hey, Zeb! What's the hurrry, boy? Your pants on fire? Ha. Hey, Fin! Here's your young friend; I'll bet he's here to see you!"
Finley was standing near a desk, talking on the phone, and waved me
over. "Yes, ma'am. Yes, we'll take care of it. I'll be right over."
to me, he said, "Do you mind talking as we go? Do you have your bike
with you? If so, we can put it in my car. I need to talk to you,
"No, I don't mind; yes, I rode my bike over here. I have something to talk over with you, too."
I wondered what it was he had to tell me.
are you all doing these days, Zeb? How is your mother getting along?
Isn't she working at Hopkins' Grocery? How is your sister adjusting; and
how are you doing?"
looked up at Sgt. Finley and wondered about his questions. I knew he
was interested in our welfare, though, so I answered the best I could.
guess we are doing okay, sir. Yes, my Ma is still working for Mr.
Hopkins and...and...and..." I just couldn't get the words out of my
"And what, Zeb? Has he done something? What is going on?"
"Well," I gulped, "he's asked her to m-m-marry him." I was embarrassed to say it.
"Ah! I see! Well, she is a beautiful and good woman, Zeb. I can see how he might want to marry her."
I turned in the seat and gave him an incredulous stare. My Ma was considered beautiful? But she was my Ma, for goodness sake!
"But that isn't what I wanted to see you about. What do you know about the Lincoln Detective Agency? Are they honest?"
we really need to talk about this! What contact have you had with them?
Have you and your mom been consulting them about your brother and
no, but Mr. Hopkins at the grocery store says he has hired them to
search for Lester and Marie. I happen to know they are not doing a good
"How do you know that?"
went to the railroad depot with a photo of our family and the agent
told me that two kids looking like them had been there right after they
disappeared, with an old lady that they looked like my Grandma O'Hanlon.
They got a ticket for where she lives: Kentucky, and left on the next
train heading that way.
also said no one else had been in there looking for them. That's how I
know they aren't doing anything to find them. Then I went to the store
to ask Mr. Hopkins who he had hired, and he showed me a letter from
Lincoln Detective Agency saying they had not found any information."
I see! Well, Zeb, from what I know about that agency, they are not who
should be looking for the kids. I can't share everything about them with
you; but please know you are not to be in contact with them. They are
trouble. You were right to come to me. Please let me deal with them.
"Okay. Now what was it you wanted to talk to me about?"
"Your sister, Rosa, is headed for trouble, and I wanted you to be aware of it."
"What do you mean, trouble? What has she done?"
was caught trying to shoplift some makeup at the dime store and they
called us. I happened to be on call, and answered the phone. I spoke to
the manager and they agreed to release her. I gave her a good talking-to
and cautioned her. She really needs someone to be firm with her. You
need to speak to her and let her know that if she tries it again, she'll
wind up in the jail and maybe reform school. I'm sorry, Zeb, to lay
this on you."
What a birthday! My eleven-year-old heart felt heavier than ever.
We soon arrived at Mrs. Brown's house, and saw she was standing underneath the big oak tree in her front yard.
thank goodness, you've come! My little Fluffy is up in the tree
again...that awful dog next door chased her up there, and she won't come
down when I call her. Could you please go up there and get her down for
Sgt. Finley looked at me and lifted his eyebrows...I pointed my index finger at myself and lifted my eyebrows in return.
wanted me to climb the tree and get Fluffy. I nodded agreement, and
proceeded to climb the tree. The higher I went, the higher Fluffy went. I
was used to climbing trees, but at my own discretion. This seemed a
little high even for me. Finally, she stopped and I reached for her. She
reached out her paw and scratched my hand, then promptly jumped down
the branches and went down the tree trunk backwards, leaving me hanging
on to the branch.
I descended the tree gingerly, and saw Mrs. Brown was holding Fluffy in her arms, consoling poor kitty.
She thanked us and invited us in for some tea and cookies. We went in for about five minutes and then left.
get a call at least once a week to rescue Fluffy," he remarked. "I
think she gets lonely and runs the cat up the tree and calls us, just to
have someone to talk to."
Finley took me home then, and dropped me off with my bike. I went in to
find Rosie talking on the phone and looking out the living room window.
I told her I really needed to talk to her.
Hanging up the phone, she came over and stood over me as I sat down on the sofa.
"What?!! What do you want? I see you've been out with Sgt. Finley again."
"Yes, and he told me about the shoplifting you were caught doing. What was that all about? Do you want to do more to worry Ma?"
"No, we were just having a little fun, seeing if we could do it, and all. It wasn't very much, just a lipstick."
"Listen, I need something from you, and I won't tell Ma, if you will promise not to do it again."
"What do you want?"
"I am going to tell you a secret, and I need your help. I found out that Grandma O'Hanlon took Marie and Les to Kentucky."
"What?! We've got to tell Ma right away, so she can get them back!"
No! Wait! We can't do that! I want to go get them myself and I need
some money for bus fare. I know you've got some saved up from your
baby-sitting money. Please loan me fifteen dollars. Please!"
planning on going up there alone? Unh, Unh! If you go, I'm going with
you! They'll never let a kid travel alone on the bus. You'd be suspected
of being a runaway. But if I go with you, I could wear a scarf on my
head and look older so that I could go as your grown-up sister. If you
don't let me go, I'm going to tell!"
Just leave it to my sister to throw a monkey wrench into my carefully thought out plans.
okay, but we've got to be careful and not leave until Wednesday
morning. Our Christmas vacation begins on Wednesday and Ma will be
expecting us to sleep late. We'll get up as soon as she leaves for work.
I've already robbed my piggy bank and I had saved up nearly ten
dollars. I still need to check out the schedule at the bus station."
Rosie looked at me in amazement, I could see the sparkle in her eyes
and the excitement building in her. An adventure! Perhaps it was what
she really needed at that time! So we laid our plans carefully.
Wednesday morning dawned early, and by seven thirty, Ma was gone, and Rosie knocked on my door.
"Zeb! Are you awake?"
I was up and dressed and ready to have my breakfast. Part of our plan
was to leave a note telling Ma that we were spending a couple of days
with some friends of ours, since we were all on vacation. Another part
was to be home by Saturday evening with Les and Marie. We had already
set it up with our friends, telling them that it was really important
for them to back us up. Then we packed up some sandwiches, Marie wrote
the note and we headed for the bus depot.
had found out that one bus headed for Kentucky left at 8:30 a.m., and
we planned to be on it. According to the schedule, it was supposed to
arrive in our part of Kentucky around 4 in the afternoon.
The agent at the depot looked at us rather askance as Rosie bought the tickets, so I looked at her and said, "Aw, Sis! Why do I have to carry the suitcase? You're big and strong!"
reply was, "Because I said so! It will make you stronger, you little
shrimp!" Then she smiled at the agent, looking like she was old enough
to be in charge. Fortunately, she was quite tall, like our Da had been.
"Here you go, ma'am.Two round trip tickets to Benton's Hollow; that'll be fifteen dollars, please."
thanked him and we went over to where people were lining up for the
bus. I casually looked them over; hmmm, there were some interesting
people who were also observing us. I hoped we didn't see anyone who knew
minutes we were boarding the Greyhound and headed south. Rosie was
getting really bossy with me, but then, I knew she would. It was just
her nature and I had been dealing with it ever since I could remember,
so I just took it in stride and looked out the window.
soon, a little kid was running up and down the aisle, and his Ma kept
hollering at him to come back. He wasn't listening to her, and would run
almost to where she could grab him and then run back our way. Rosie and
I were sitting in the rear of the bus where we could escape much
was an old woman that was giving us the keen eye, as if to question our
right to be on the bus without our Ma. She was coughing fit to kill and
sounded like she was rotten on the inside. I bent my head over the
comic book I had brought with me. My cap covered my face pretty good
from her inquisitive eyes. I elbowed Rosie and asked her if she knew
that woman. She looked quickly at the woman and said, "Not that I know
of, but she might have seen us at the grocery store, talking to Ma."
I had a new worry. What if that woman called Ma or somebody that knew
Ma, and let the cat out of the bag? I told myself not to borrow trouble;
that we had enough to keep us busy worrying. I always tried to look on
the bright side.
About three and a half hours later, we had a rest stop, where people could get off and stretch legs and get a snack.
"Okay, folks, you got about fifteen minutes," the driver shouted.
left the bus and I noticed the old woman heading for the pay phones at
the back of the store. Oh, no! She might be calling back to our town,
maybe the cops! I went back to eavesdrop if I could.
(to be continued)