Monday, July 29, 2013

Zebulon - Day 96 - 110 - Historical Fiction

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. 

I 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.

Lying 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 out.

Pretty soon, I was dozing off and went to sleep, making my plans.

I 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. 

As 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.

I 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?"

"Happy 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. 

"How 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! 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. 

Her 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. 

"It's 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!"

I 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. 

"Ma, 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?"

"Oh, 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. 

I 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.

I 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. 

Quickly leaving the school grounds, I headed for the train depot. I was beginning my own detective work, and I was following my instincts.

Entering 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. 

Heading 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 humorous. 

"No, 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." 

"Oh, 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." 

He 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?"

"Yeah, 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?"

The 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?" 

"Nah! 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."

I 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. 

Entering 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.

Indicating 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.

"Come 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.

", sir, it isn't that.  I'd like to meet the detective you hired to find Marie and Lester, if you don't mind."

He 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."

He 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.
I 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.

Either 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.

Stopping 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." 

Hurrying 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.

I 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!"

Sgt. 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."

Turning 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, anyway."

"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.

"How 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?"

I 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. 

"I 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 mouth. 

"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?"

"Zeb.. 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 sister?"

"Well, 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 job."

"How do you know that?"

"I 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.

"He 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."

"Ah, 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?"

"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?"

"She 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. 

"Oh, 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 me?"

Sgt. Finley looked at me and lifted his eyebrows...I pointed my index finger at myself and lifted my eyebrows in return.

He 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.

"We 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."

Sgt. 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! 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!" 

"You're 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, 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."

When 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?" 

Ha! 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. 

I 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!"

Her 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."

She 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 us.

Within 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. 

Pretty 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 notice. 

There 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."

Now 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. 

We 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)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Zebulon - Days 90 - 95 - Historical Fiction

I neglected to mention that times were especially tough economically in the late 1950's, because of where we lived in the small steel mill town. Many people were out of work, and my Da had been lucky to have his job. They had been getting ready to go out on strike when he was killed. Now, all the mills were on strike, and no one had much money to spend. 

Mr. Hopkins kept Ma working, anyway, because people had to eat; he supplied the groceries. 

That morning, two days before my birthday, I went to Rosie's room. She was fourteen now, almost fifteen. She was sitting at her dresser, putting on lipstick, and primping at her hair, fussing because it didn't look the way she wanted it to. She could see my reflection in her mirror. Her annoyance was quite obvious. 

"What do you want? Haven't you brought enough trouble on us? Why don't you get out and leave me alone?!!"

She was changing right in front of my eyes. My big sister had never spoken to me in that manner. My eyes filled with tears and my heart filled with anguish; I returned her anger in kind.

"What are you doing? Where are you getting ready to go? The kitchen is still dirty, are you going to leave it that way? Ma will climb your frame! You look like a hussy!" 

"Mind  your own business! If you want the kitchen cleaned, do it yourself. I'm going out to have some fun with my friends; goodness knows, there is no fun left in this house! Get out of my way, now! I'll be back when I'm good and ready! Move!"

My family was falling apart in front of my very eyes. What could I do to change things? I needed to do some kind of detective work and find my brother and little sister. But what? Where? 

Returning to the kitchen, I decided to have a bowl of cereal, and plan my strategy for finding my siblings. Then I would begin the hunt anew. 

I started thinking about my Grandma O'Hanlon. Had she taken Marie and Les? How could I find out? She lived two states away from us and it would take some doing to see if she had. I had a little money saved for Christmas gifts - not enough to travel by train, though. 

The police had called her; in fact, Sgt. Finley had talked to her and she assured him that she would not soil her hands with the little heathens; they were past redemption as far as she was concerned. Somehow, I didn't trust her words.

Just then I heard Rosie's door slam and saw her walking hurriedly through the kitchen to the front door; her carroty red curls were bouncing as she flounced out the door.  

"Don't look for me until you see me coming," she shouted. "I'm going out with my friends today."

"Just wait till Ma gets hold of you!" I shouted. "You won't act so high and mighty, then!"

The changes in my life were coming so fast, I was blindsided by the next one that came.

Going to the sink, I decided to do the dishes for my Ma. After all, she was working hard to provide for us, and this was the least I could do for her (even though it was woman's work). I thought about Rosie and her behavior as I stood there with the suds up on my arms, squishing the water through my hands, mindlessly. 

Rosie was just reacting in the only way she knew how, I supposed, but it didn't make it any easier for those of us around her. After all, we were hurting, too. I thought then about Marie and Lester; where were they? Were they hungry? Were they safe? Who had them? Did anyone? Were they maybe... I couldn't finish that thought. I couldn't believe anyone would really hurt them. People didn't do that, did they?

What about my Grandma O'Hanlon... had she come back and taken them? I had to find out if she had, and there was only one way to do that. I had to travel there without telling anyone. If anyone was going to save my family, it had to be me, I thought. But how? How could I get there and when?

It would bear some smart planning on my part. The next day, however, a most upsetting thing took place.

My Ma had come home from work on Saturday night, and had fixed a light supper for us, then went to bed. Rosie had gotten home just minutes before Ma, with a worried and sheepish look on her face. I just knew she had been in some kind of trouble, but she didn't confide in me.

The next morning, we got up and Ma was rushing us around to get ready for Sunday School and church, almost before we finished our breakfast. I knew something was up, but didn't know what. Ma took a roast out of the refrigerator and put it into a dutch oven. She browned it, and then added some vegetables to it, and put it into the oven for our dinner. Uh - oh!  Company was coming, and I thought I knew who it was.

Well, I found out after church that I had been right. Yep! Mr. William Hopkins came up to the door and rang the bell just as Ma was putting the food on the table. He smiled at the three of us, and removing is hat, gave it to me to put on the hall tree. 

Rubbing his stomach, he said, "Good afternoon, folks. Ah, Ellen! Dinner certainly does smell great! Thank you so much for inviting me to share it with you all!"

I wondered if this dinner was going to turn out anything like the last one did. It was barely over, when Mr. Hopkins turned to a surly looking Rosie and me and asked if we could take a walk with him down to the park. It was a sunny but cool afternoon, and kids were out playing.

We looked over at Ma with a questioning look on our faces... she nodded her assent, and we left with Mr. Hopkins. We had not a clue as to what he could be wanting, but apparently she trusted him. So we got our coats and left with him, one of us on either side of him. Rosie was about as tall as he was and she was nervously biting her fingernails, a habit she had picked up lately. 

As we walked along, I took a closer look at Mr. Hopkins. He had a kind face, and it bore many lines of what looked like a road map. Thinking back on it later, I realized those lines had been made from caring for others. His hair was beginning to gray around the temples, and his blue eyes sparkled with interest as he looked down at me. The mouth was topped by a mustache that was graying as well. 

As we neared the park, he suggested we sit on the park bench in the sunlight. He brushed the seat off with his handkerchief so that we could have a clean dry place to be seated. 

"You like baseball games, don't you, Zebulon?" 

I quietly nodded my assent, not quite knowing how to talk to him. 

"Rosa, I'll bet you love to shop with your friends?," he inquired innocently of my sister, where upon her face turned a scarlet red, and she looked at him suspiciously. 

Then she whispered, "Yes."

I looked at her. It was not like her to behave in such a manner. She never was embarrassed at anything. What was going on with her?

Mr. Hopkins told us that he and his wife had not been blessed with any children, but that they had both wanted them. He then told us how his wife had developed cancer. He had spent three years taking care of her in her illness before she passed away last year. 

"Uh 0h!" I said to myself... "where is this conversation headed?"  I didn't like the sound of it.

Mr. Hopkins went on, observing us closely as he spoke. 

" I have been acquainted with Ellen, er, your mother for many years, since she shops at my grocery. I've watched you all growing up through the years, and I know that you are good children, and good to your mother. I've seen the bruises on her arms and said nothing, yet sensed her feelings of shame."

I knew he was talking about the beatings my Da used to inflict on her, and I felt shame that he knew. I waited to see where this one-sided conversation was heading, and looked down at my hands. Would I be that kind of man? I vowed then and there that I would not be, even if it meant never to marry. I would never subject a woman to that kind of treatment.

Mr. Hopkins continued, speaking gently to the two of us. 

"Rosa, Zebulon, I would like to ask your mother to marry me, but I would like to have your permission first."

There were the words I was fearful of hearing, yet sure that they were coming. My first inner reaction was to jump up and shout "No, no!", but instead I asked, "does she know you want to?"

He nodded in silent assent. We both looked at Rosie, but she just sat there, with the tears rolling down her face, as it crumpled and twisted. "I hate you both! My life is ruined! My Da 
Is gone,; Zeb lost my Marie and Les, and now you want to take away our Ma!"

"No, it's not like that! I've hired a detective to try and find Marie and Les. He's out there searching right now. Your mother knows how I feel about her, but won't marry me unless you both agree. Please say you both will think about it. Rosa, I'm sorry about your father, and won't speak of him again. We need to get back now."

I knew we had a lot to think about. I wondered why they would want to get married anyway. They were both old. They were both at least forty.


(To be continued)

Monday, July 8, 2013

Zebulon - Days 78 - 89 - Historical Fiction

Miss Greene and I headed the few blocks, walking toward the Hopkins' Grocery Store. It was just a small neighborhood store that supplied the community with groceries and some dry goods. I guess nowadays it would be called a "Mom and Pop store". My Ma worked the cash register and helped do the book-keeping. She was really smart; my Pa had kept her at home practically locked up. Mr. Hopkins had been married before and Ma was doing the job his wife had done. His wife died of cancer the year before.

Well, we went into the store and Ma took one look at us and jumped to a conclusion.

"Zebulon Seamus O'Hanlon! What have you been up to, that the teacher had to bring you to see me? Young man, what am I going to do with you? Have you been fighting again?"

Well, the customers that were standing around certainly were getting an eye and ear-full and believe me, they were really paying strict attention.

"Ms. O'Hanlon, we really need to speak to you in private. Do you have a store room or some place that we can talk?" asked Miss Greene, with tears in her eyes, and a pleading look on her face.

Ma blanched when she looked at the both of us again, and said, "Yes, of course." She called Mr. Hopkins over and asked him if she could have a few minutes in private with us.

He took one look at all of us, and realized something serious was taking place, so he patted Ma on the back and said, "Yes, use my office back there. Take your time, Ellen."

After we went into the office, and we shared the news with Ma, her screams could be heard all over the store, and then she fainted.

Fortunately for Ma, Miss Greene was about 5'7" tall, and because she had her arm around Ma when we told her about Les and Marie, Miss Greene was able to catch Ma and keep her from falling when Ma fainted. Miss Greene placed Ma in the office chair and we rubbed Ma's hands. By this time, a crowd had gathered around the office door, wanting to see what all the commotion was about.

I began patting Ma's face, trying to rouse her. As I watched her eyelids flutter, she murmured, "What happened? What am I doing in this chair? Zebbie, why are you patting my face?"

Then I could see awareness of the situation returning to her face, only to see her face crumple in response to the knowledge. 

"What happened to them? Have you been looking for them? We have to go... we have to find them right now! Did you call the police? Where is Rosie? Is she gone, too? Oh, my poor babies! How could you let this happen, Zeb? You were responsible for getting them home! Were you off playing somewhere?" 

Then she looked at Miss Greene and asked, "Why are you here with Zeb, Miss Greene?"

"He called me when he got home to ask me about the children. We were practicing for a Christmas program after school, and I went out and told the children that we would be a few minutes and they were playing in the snow. They promised they wouldn't go anywhere. When Zebulon came out a few minutes later, they were gone. I'm so sorry!" By now Miss Greene was crying.

"I looked everywhere for them, Ma! I ran all around the school yard looking for them and went to Freddy's house to see if they were there. We called Rosie and talked to her. Mrs. Grogan next door hadn't seen them, either."

By now the office door had been cracked open and people were listening to our conversation, so now everyone knew what was going on. I could see the judgmental expressions on everyone's faces - especially the women's. There were some looks of sympathy, but not many. 

I snapped my fingers! We needed to call Sgt. Finley and get the police to help us look for them.

"Ma..Ma..Listen... Let's call Sgt. Finley and see if he will come and talk to us and maybe help us look for Marie and Lester!"

"Yes..yes..Zeb. That is a good idea. I want to go to the school, too, and see if I can find any thing that might tell me where they went. We need to ask everyone who lives near the school. Maybe they saw something. Let's go right now."

Miss Greene spoke up. "Look outside, Mrs. O'Hanlon! It's dark out there. We couldn't find anything even if we went looking. Let's go call the police right now. The longer we wait..." She hesitated, not knowing what to say next.

My Ma looked at her with venom in her eyes. "It's all your fault, you know! They wouldn't be missing if it weren't for you. Oh, my little Marie, and Lester...." and she burst out crying again.

Mr. Hopkins came into the room and told Ma that he had over heard and that she should just go home and take care of things. "I'll be along later and see if I can help in any way."

Whoa! Wait a minute, I thought. He sure sounds like he wants to take control of the situation and my Ma, as well. Well, I thought. We'll just see about that. 

I picked up the phone and called the police station, asking for Sgt. Finley. He happened to be on duty, and agreed to meet us at our home.

We pushed our way through the curious throng of people and went the few blocks home...Miss Greene, my Ma and I.

As soon as we arrived at the house, we saw Sgt. Finley and his partner, an older guy with a kind of paunchy belly, get out of their squad car and we walked up the snowy walk together. 

He opened the door for us, and we went inside. 

"Now, tell me what the trouble is again? You say your children are missing? How did it happen?" he asked as we entered the door.

About that time, Rosie came running up the walkway and burst through the doorway. "Ma! Ma! What are we going to do? Have you found Les and Marie yet?" 

"Wait a minute, wait a minute! Let's all sit down and discuss this as calmly as we can, okay?" said the Sgt. "Now, Zeb, why don't you begin. Apparently it began at school, right? Who is this lady with you all?"

Speaking up, I explained the whole thing to him, and introduced Miss Greene. Sgt. Finley's partner, whom I found out later was named Sgt. Beason, just stood to one side and observed the whole proceedings. He was chewing on a toothpick, which I later found out was one of his habits, as though he had just eaten. He didn't seem like he was a lot of help, but it turned out I was wrong about that. Sgt. Finley called him "Bee".

Anyway, after all the explanations had been made, the two men left to do some investigating and said they would report back as soon as had any information. I just knew that if any clues could be found, they would find them.

Just then, Mr. Hopkins appeared at our door, and Ma let him in. 

As Mr. Hopkins came in, he looked around at the crowd that was there. 

"Ellen, what have you found out? Anything new?"

"No," my Ma sobbed, "we just now began talking about the situation."

"We're going to go to the school yard and see what we can find right now. It isn't very late in the evening, maybe we can catch people at supper and ask about the children and if they saw them with anyone this afternoon." This came from Sgt. Beason. "Young man, why don't you and Miss Greene come with us?"

By now, Mr. Hopkins had his arm around my Ma and was leading her to the sofa. Rosie and I looked at one another, wondering about the familiarity he was showing to my Ma. My Ma certainly didn't look like she was objecting to his shoulder to cry on. Looking at Rosie, he asked, "Could you be a dear and please get your mother a glass of water?"

Ma looked at him and asked, "What am I going to do, William? They are my babies!"

"We're going to find them, my dear! They haven't been missing very long, and the police here are really dependable. Please, you need to just get some rest now. I'll be here with you and wait for them to come back. Now please just drink some of this water and then lie down here and rest. I'll just put this afghan over you. Here is a cushion to put under your head."

I nearly gagged as I watched the scene taking place in front of my eyes. I signaled Rosie with my eyes and indicated she was to keep watch over our Ma while we were gone.

Just a few minutes later, the four of us arrived at the schoolhouse yard. Both policemen took their huge flashlights in hand and began their search, looking for anything that would indicate the earlier presence of the two children. By now all the area was covered in a three  inch blanket of snow, and I felt chilled to the bone, not only by the cold wind, but also by the icy fear that gripped my heart. 

Sgt. Beason asked Miss Greene exactly where she had seen Marie and Lester playing. 

She replied, "Over by that big tree. They must have been playing like it was their fort, because they would jump behind it when they threw a snowball." 

"Okay, Fin, let's search over there."

In only a few minutes, they came over to us with the book satchel that Les carried his and Marie's books and stuff in. There was no doubt because it had Les' name on it. They were also carrying his Roy Rogers lunchbox. He wouldn't have willingly gone anywhere without that lunchbox. He had begged for it for weeks, before Ma broke down and got it for him. That told me that the outcome of all this could not be good. Once again I burst into tears and hugged Miss Greene. 

What were we going to do now? How could we go back to Ma and Rosie with this news. I ran over to the tree and began hitting it, so that my hands were soon bloody. I was so angry, and filled with despair, I didn't  know what else to do.

When Sgt. Finley looked over and shone his flashlight on me, I was huddled down at the base of the tree, sobbing my heart out. He stepped over and lifted me up. 

"I understand how angry you are, boyo. But you can't let anger take over and cloud your thinking. Now... can you think of anyone that would want to do harm to your Marie and Lester?"

I picked up a handful of snow and cleaned my hands with it. The snow stung the cuts in them, but right then, I just wanted them clean. Miss Greene came over as well and as the four of us stood there, I considered his question. The other kids had stopped bothering us about our Da being gone. Les and Marie seemed to be doing okay in school. No, I couldn't think of anyone, I told him.

Sgt. Beeson came over and asked if it had been our house that had been the scene of a disturbance several weeks earlier. That flashed a memory through my mind of my grandmother beating down my Ma and slapping me. But then, she hadn't done anything to my brother and sisters. 

"Well, yes, it was my Grandma O'Hanlon, but she went back home. In fact one of your officers escorted her to the train." I replied. "And I can't see why she would snatch my brother and sister, anyway. It seemed like she couldn't stand to be around us."

"Well, we can't seem to find anything else around here this evening. We will inquire at a few houses around here and you two need to head on back home. We'll be in touch. Don't worry, Zeb! We will do our best to find them. We'll see you later this evening at your home. Don't forget to pray. Prayer can do a lot of good. Good night, Miss Greene."

So that was it, I thought. Now we had to go back to my home and give Ma and Rosie the bad news.

When Miss Greene and I got back to my home, my Ma was asleep and Mr. Hopkins was sitting in an armchair beside the sofa, watching over her. He jumped up and put his finger over his mouth as if to shush us when we came in. Then motioning us into the kitchen, he pulled out a chair for Miss Greene and we all soon were seated at the table. 

"Rosie went to bed, but I could hear her crying through the closed door, then no more sounds. She must have gone to sleep as well. Young man... what news do you and your teacher have for us?"

"We couldn't find any thing except for Lester's book satchel and lunch box. Sgt. Finley kept those for evidence, not that it will do any good." By now, I was about to give up hope that we would find them, and it showed in my answer to him.

Miss Greene replied, "Now, Zeb. We don't know that. They are going to question some of the neighbors to see if they saw anyone with Marie and Les after school. We mustn't give up hope! I am going to stay with you until Sgts. Finley and Beason get back to report to us. I'm going to excuse you from school tomorrow if you wish. You will probably be needed here." 

We waited another hour and by this time I had gotten really anxious. 

"Miss Greene, would you pray with me? You know Sgt. Finley suggested that prayer would help. Mr. Hopkins, will you pray, too?"

"Of course, I will. I'll be glad to pray with you both, in fact, if you like, I'll pray first and then Miss Greene can follow."

"Dear Heavenly Father, please watch over the children and keep them safe. We trust them to your care. Please help them not to be afraid and return them to us. In Jesus name, we ask it, Amen." Mr. Hopkins spoke to God like he was an old friend of God's. I was glad to hear him and realized perhaps I might have been wrong about him. 

Then Miss Greene prayed for their safety too, and just as she was saying "Amen", we heard the police ringing the door bell. Ma jumped up from the sofa as we ran into the living room.

Running to the door, I flung it open, and I could see by the looks on their faces that the news was not good, as could my Ma. She crumpled and would have fallen had we not caught her. Sgt. Finley and Mr. Hopkins helped her back over to the sofa. 

"Oh, William...William... what am I go to do without my babies?"

"Now, Ellen, don't give up hope. It's early days yet. Let's see first what the officers found out in the school neighborhood, okay? Officers? What can you tell us?"

"Mrs. O'Hanlon, we talked to all the neighbors around the school and while many of them saw and heard the children playing and having snowball fights, they took no notice of anything or anyone unusual. We plan on having an assembly at the school tomorrow and seeing if any of the children can tell us anything. Perhaps those that were playing with Marie and Lester saw something or someone out of the ordinary. I'm sorry, but that is all we can do right now. We will check in the morning with the ticket agents at the bus and train stations to see if they were seen with an adult. You know they close the windows around 6 p.m. We'll do everything we can when daylight comes."

They had removed their hats in deference to Ma, and now they put them back on and left. 

We looked at one another. That seemed to be that. Now what?

My stomach began to growl and ache; I realized we hadn't had any supper, but how could I mention food when we were all in such an emotional turmoil?

My stomach growled again, only louder. I looked around, embarrassed. Had anyone else heard it? Miss Greene looked at me, and spoke very softly. 

"Zebulon, are you hungry? Would you like me to prepare something for us to eat? I know your mother is in no condition to do so; and I would be happy to do that for all of you." Giving me no chance to answer, she took me by the hand, leaving Ma and Mr. Hopkins sitting on the sofa. 

Ma was still quietly sobbing into his handkerchief. Apparently, Rosie was still in her room, having cried herself to sleep. Not even the doorbell had awakened her.

Going into the kitchen, my teacher looked into the refrigerator and found a dozen eggs, a block of cheddar cheese, and a plastic container of margarine. In the bread box, there was an almost entire loaf of bread. She washed her hands, and began cracking eggs into a bowl, instructing me to wash my hands and then to begin buttering the bread. I did as I was told. 

Rummaging around in the stove drawer, she pulled out a large fry pan, and put some Crisco into it to melt. She found an onion in the vegetable bin in the lower cabinets and began chopping it up. 

"Where is your cheese grater?" 

"In that wide cabinet drawer, I think," I replied. "I have all the bread buttered and on the cookie sheet."

As she stood there grating the cheese to go into the eggs, Miss Greene's face was so sad, it seemed to reflect the feelings I had inside. My mind was racing with thoughts of what could have happened to my younger siblings. Where were they? Were they safe? Were they scared? Who had them? Would we ever find them, alive? I didn't dare think any further. I could not.

Turning to Miss Greene, I threw down the butter knife and just grabbed her around the waist and hung on, unable to speak, tears flowing once again from my eyes and an unbearable ache in my heart.

Miss Greene put her arms around me, and hugged me tightly. 

"Zeb, my dear, I know things are difficult right now, but we mustn't give up hope. It is early days yet, and we must be brave for your mother and sister, and look to God for strength to get through the next days and weeks. Okay?"

I nodded agreement, and once again dried my tears.

"Let's get supper on the table, now. Would you please put the bread into the oven, so it can toast? Thank you." 

Supper that evening was a sad affair. When it was ready, I went in to ask Ma and Mr. Hopkins to come and sit at the kitchen table. She came slowly shaking her head "No", with Mr. Hopkins leading her like a child, and urging her that she must have something and keep up her strength for the days ahead. 

In the meantime, Miss Greene went to Rosie's bedroom to waken her for supper. I heard Rosie shout "Go away! Leave me alone! I don't want anything."

We sat at the table staring at the food and saying nothing. Mr. Hopkins then bowed his head and asked for God's blessings on our food. We ate in silence, mostly just picking at it, except for me; I really was hungry. My instincts took over; I was a growing boy and somehow felt that things just had to turn out okay. At least, I hoped so.

The next morning, I woke up, bleary-eyed and disoriented. Looking over at Les' bed, all at once remembering that he and Marie were missing. I dragged my body out of bed, fearful, yet hopeful, wondering what kind of news we might hear, if any. 

There was nothing that day. Nothing at all. We went to school hoping the efforts by the police would net some kind of news. A couple of kids remembered playing snowball fighting with Marie and Les the day before, but they left before my siblings did and saw nothing or anyone amiss.

 Three days then passed with interminable length, and hope was beginning to disappear on all fronts. 

I woke up on Saturday morning.The day appeared gray and forbidding as I looked out the bedroom window. The snow was just the dirty slushy stuff. My Ma had gone back to work this morning, and I was going to be left to my own devices today.

There were no sounds coming from the rest of the house. Looking over at the wall calendar, I noticed my birthday was only two days away. What kind of birthday it would be, I didn't know. I certainly didn't feel like celebrating. Would anyone else remember? 

Going into the kitchen, I found dirty dishes in the sink, as though no one cared. There were remnants of toast and jelly in a plate, like someone had been going to eat, but couldn't bring themselves to put it into their mouth.

(To be continued)

Monday, July 1, 2013

Zebulon - Day 72 - 77 - Historical Fiction

The next morning, we got up as usual, finding Mom getting ready for work, looking bleary-eyed as though she had a rough night. I went over and put my arms around her.

"Are you sure you feel like going in to work today?"

"Son, I appreciate your concern, but you must realize that many times, when you are facing responsibilities, you have no choice but to do what you must in order to survive. This job is survival for us. Yes, I feel okay. Please don't worry about me. All right?" She tipped up my chin with her index finger and smiled that wonderful smile of hers, her eyes glinting with tears. "Now, have your breakfast and don't forget your lunch. Be sure and don't forget to watch after your little brother and sister. Don't fiddle around after school and leave them to walk home alone. Okay?"

"Yes, Ma."

It went on that way for a couple of weeks. Mr. Hopkins hadn't been back to Sunday lunch since the last fiasco. Les had asked me the next morning after he came to lunch about it, and about what had happened to our Grandma. I just told him that she decided to leave that night, and that Ma hadn't discussed Mr. Hopkins with me. 

We had  begun going to Sunday School and church. It was interesting and we were learning a lot; it was hard not to wiggle around during church though. Ma kept shushing us when we would get restless. 

Christmas was getting closer and I still wasn't much closer to figuring out what I was going to do for gifts. My birthday was getting close, too. Being born two weeks before Christmas kind of cut down on the gifts, if you know what I mean. I would soon be eleven and I was growing taller. I didn't realize that my life would soon change.

At school, my teacher decided we were going to do a Christmas program for our parents, so my class stayed after school for about fifteen or twenty minutes. I was concerned about Les and Marie. It was my responsibility to walk them to school and walk home with them.

 I fidgeted so much that my teacher, Miss Greene, finally asked me, "Zebulon O'Hanlon! What is your problem? Are you sick?"

"No, ma'am. I'm supposed to walk my brother and sister home. I'm responsible for getting them home safely."

"I'm sure they must be waiting for you. We'll only be a few more minutes. Now settle down. I'll go check for you. Class, take a seat and I'll be right back. Mary Ann, you take names."

Oh, no! Not Mary Ann! She always wrote my name down! Now I'd be in trouble with Miss Greene, too. 

My teacher came back with her face wreathed in smiles. They are waiting for you, just like they were supposed to. Now let's go over this program once more, class."

Fifteen minutes later, she let us go. 

"Finally," I thought. I opened the school door and saw it was snowing again. Maybe our Ma would make some snow cream for us. That was the poor man's ice cream, and so good. I could just taste it on my tongue as I thought about it. 

Looking around, I didn't see Lester or Marie. Where were they? Running around the school house, I looked and shouted their names, my heart in my throat, and beating wildly in my head. 

"Marie, Lester! Where are you? Are you playing at hiding from me? Come on, we're gonna be late gettin' home!" 

I ran around shouting till my throat was hoarse; no Marie or Lester answered. Then I ran toward home as fast as my legs could carry me, slipping and sliding in the fresh snow that was piling up by the minute. I was making excuses in my head as I ran.

I got home finally, with my clothes wet from the snow, and a chill in my heart when I opened the front door.

The interior of the house was silent as a tomb. I called out my siblings' names. No reply came. Now, I was terrified. What to do? Where was Rosie? She must have stopped at one of her girl friend's homes. Now what? 

I ran next door to Mrs. Grogan's house and knocked on her door, waiting impatiently as I heard her walker clicking across the hallway floor.

"Yes, Zebbie?" she smiled. "What can I do for you? Are you here to shovel my sidewalk for me again? Are you hungry? Would you like some cookies?"

"No, ma'am. Thank you. I need to know if you have seen my little brother and sister. They were supposed to wait for me at school to walk them home, but they've disappeared and I can't find them anywhere." I was almost sobbing when I asked her. I could just barely get out the words.

"Oh, my, no... I haven't seen them since you all left this morning for school. Maybe you'd better ask some of their friends or something. Maybe they walked home with them. If I see them, I call your house. Okay?" 

"Yes, ma'am. thank you." I closed the door; my heart was heavy with fear and grief. I just knew I wasn't ever going to see them again. Something awful had happened to them. I had heard about other kids disappearing and wondered how I was going to tell my Ma and Rosie. 

We lived in a relatively safe neighborhood, I thought. We even went to a neighborhood school with people we knew, walking along with us to school. How could this happen? I had to get over to a neighbor's house where Marie and Lester often played and see if they were there. 

Quickly, I ran down the street and knocked on the door of the corner house. Freddy Turner opened the door and looked at me with surprise on his face. 

"Zeb! What are you doing here?" he asked.

"Quick! Tell me, are Marie and Lester here? Have you seen them this afternoon after school?"

"No... they're not here. I had to stay home today, cause I have a cold. I haven't seen them. Sorry."

Now I was really worried. Where could they be?

Running back to the house, crying as I went, I was really scared inside. What was going to happen now? How could I tell Ma? What should I do?

I ran inside and picked up the phone. "And, Betty, you should have seen her hair! It was absolutely an awful shade of red!" Oh, no, Mrs. Jenkins was on the party line with one of her friends. I'd never get through unless I could get her to hang up.

"Er, Mrs. Jenkins, this is Zebulon O'Hanlon, and I really need to use the phone. Could I please? It is an emergency, or I wouldn't ask."

"Now what kind of emergency could a child have anyway. Where is your mother? Why isn't she at home? Oh, has she had an accident? What's happened? Did she trip and fall when she was on her way home from working at that grocery store?" she snickered.

"Please, could I just have the phone for a couple of minutes? Then I'll let you back on for as long as you need it...please?"

"Well, all right, if you insist! Honestly, the manners of some young people are just unbelievable! I'll check with you later, Betty! Don't go anywhere! I have a lot more to tell you!" 

I heard them click the phone and then got the dial tone. I dialed Miss Greene's house, and then when she answered the phone, I heard the faint click which meant Mrs. Jenkins was listening in. 

"Miss Greene, this is Zebulon. Could you please tell me what my brother and sister were doing this afternoon when you went outside to check on them? Did you see anyone else besides them?"

"Why Zebulon? What's wrong? There were some other children out there, too, and they were all scooping up the fallen snow and throwing snowballs at one another. They were having a great time. I saw some parents stopping by to pick some of them up, maybe to go shopping for Christmas. But I didn't really have time to ask any questions and I didn't notice anything wrong. Why do you ask? Weren't they waiting for you when you came out?"

I began crying and could hardly speak for the tears choking my throat. 

"No, ma'am. Nobody was out there, and I can't find them anywhere! I'm at home all alone. What am I going to do?"

"I'll be right over, Zeb. Don't let anyone else into your house, except your sister. We'll talk as soon as I get there. Okay?"

She must have run all the way, because within five minutes, she was there, knocking on my door. It was beginning to get dark and I flipped on the porch light.

As soon as I opened the door, Miss Greene stamped the snow from her feet and then rushed in. She took me by the shoulders and said, "Okay, Zebulon, we need to think this through rationally. Where have you looked for your brother and sister? What else have you done? Have you noticed any suspicious looking strangers hanging around?"

"Well, I checked at Freddy's house where they sometimes go to play and they weren't there. I called you and I also checked next door at my neighbor's house. She always seems to know what is going on around here. She has nothing to do but look through her windows all day, I think." 

I was sniveling and sniffing trying to keep the stuff from running down my upper lip. Miss Greene gave me her handkerchief and I blew my nose and handed it back to her. "Thank you," I said. 

"You're welcome. Now, Zebulon, we need to contact your mother and where is your older sister?" 

"She's been babysitting for the Davises after school. They live about three blocks over. My Ma is going to kill me!" I began crying again.

"We need to contact the police, too, as soon as we can," MIss Greene continued.

My teeth began chattering and Miss Greene noticed how wet my clothes were from all the running I had done in the snow.

"Zebulon, you need to run to your room and change into some dry clothing. In the meantime, I'll call your sister. What is the telephone number where she is baby-sitting?"

"It's 2537. Oh, she'll be so mad at me.. and so will my Ma!"

"Stop crying, Zeb! We'll find them. Now go change and I'll call your sister to see if they went to where she is baby-sitting."

That gave me new hope. Maybe they had gone there! As I ran to change my clothes, I heard Miss Greene had already picked up the phone to call my sister. "Madam, could I please use the phone? I'm sorry to interrupt your conversation, but it is an emergency."

When I returned a couple of minutes later, she was just hanging up the phone. 

"I'm sorry, Zebulon." she said, worriedly. "Rose hasn't seen them either. Now we need to go down to the grocery store and tell your mother. Perhaps they went down there. Do you think they might have?"

I really doubted it, but it wouldn't hurt anything to check. I really dreaded telling my Ma. What would she do to me and how would we ever find Lester and Marie? What if they had been kidnapped? I didn't realize at the time how very guilty Miss Greene was feeling, too.

(To be continued)