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The Woman in White Marble

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Stories by Patricia Crandall

Patricia Crandall has published numerous articles and short stories in various magazines and newspapers. She has five books in print, Melrose, Then and Now, a historical volume, I Passed This Way, a poetry collection, The Dog Men, a thriller, Tales of an Upstate New York Bottle Miner, non-fiction, and Pat’s Collectibles, a collection of short stories. She is writing a y/a thriller about child sex trafficking titled The Red Gondola and the Cova. It is ready for publication. She lives with her husband, Art, and a rescue cat, Bette, at Babcock Lake in the Grafton Mountains near Petersburgh, New York.

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Tuesday
Jan152019

The Wedding Reception

Julie raised an impish face with ‘wise owl’ eyes to newlyweds, Dianne and Hugh Levitt. She wished she could be as happy as they were. She felt something, but it was not happy. She stared down at the ground, making an effort not to drag her feet along the macadam road which stretched past dairy and livestock farms. In the midst of this pastoral setting sat a nifty Cape Cod styled house the Levitt’s would soon call home. They swung their hands in unison, strolling to a lawn reception to be held at the home of Dianne’s gal pal, Abigail Dawes.

Tears stung Julie’s eyes. Things seemed pretty cool right now. She was ten years old, growing up fast, but not fast enough. Dianne and Hugh were in the process of adopting her. But nothing good ever lasted.

The threesome made a right angle turn and went down a rutted dirt road past a huge wood pile in a clearing which narrowed to a drive bordered by hedges. As they drew near to a freshly painted white farmhouse with green trim, Julie released each pulsating hand and skipped ahead through a grassy triangle cut out by the sun beneath tall poplars.

 

Abigail was leaning over an elaborately set long white table, fussing with a centerpiece of white camellias, white roses and delicate baby’s breath. She turned at the sounds behind her and looked up. “The guests of honor have arrived,” she announced.

Julie slid her hands down the lush material of her pale pink lace dress, pleased that it was a girlie garment with elegant bows front and back on her tiny waist.  Hand-tooled, silver barrettes held her side swept auburn hair in place. The grown-up style made her look older; at least twelve.

“You’re a knock-out,” Abigail gushed. “That is a stunning dress. I meant to tell you how much I liked it at the ceremony.” She had a wide smile and her cheeks were flushed. “Would you help me serve these? I don’t have enough hands and many of the guests have arrived. I know you would rather be doing something than standing around looking beautiful.”

Julie accepted a platter of canapés and sampled three. “They taste good. I’m hungry.”

“Save some for the guests,” Abigail called after her.

Julie headed in Dianne’s direction. The bride was talking with her father, John Hobarth. She listened as Mr. Hobarth congratulated his daughter, “Dianne, you look ravishing. You deserve to be happy with a remarkable husband and a charming daughter.”

“I feel blessed.” Dianne beamed as Julie drew near with the tempting tray.

“Have one of these little sandwiches, Dianne,” Julie pressed. “The peanut butter and jelly ones taste best.”

“Um, they all look delicious, honey; just one – the one with a cucumber on top.”

            A black limousine with a Massachusetts license plate drove into the yard and stopped. Julie watched Yvonne Baleaux step out of the back seat of the vehicle while two silver-haired, jeweled ladies climbed out of the front of the car. They each carried gifts. Abigail greeted them with smiling assurance and guided them to a table set up for the purpose of displaying the gifts. A circle of white crepe paper bells danced overhead.

                                                                        *

Yvonne made a bee line to Hugh. Julie crept up behind Yvonne and Hugh and spied on them.

“Wow, super day,” Yvonne said breathlessly, shaking out her luxuriant red hair with blond highlights. Hugh leaned his cheek down to her. With her slender, musk scented hands she turned his face sharply and kissed him full on the lips. “Congratulations bridegroom. I hope you’ll be happy with the little woman.” Pouting, she looked across the sweep of lawn at Dianne mingling with guests.

“I’ll be reasonably happy,” Hugh drawled. “I knew from the moment I met Dianne I loved her.”

Yvonne’s laugh was contemptuous. “You’re not a romantic, Hugh. Love…you! A forty-one year old kiddie counselor, hitching up with an old-maid social worker? You were more exciting when you were an ad executive!”

Hugh’s eyes narrowed. “What pointed nails you have, Yvonne. Why don’t you make an appointment to see me at my office? I have just the therapy to help you function socially.”

Julie nudged Hugh and offered him canapés from her tray. He placed several on a napkin and winked at her. She turned deliberately away from Ms. Baleaux and proceeded on her way.

“And, you have a brat in the package!” Yvonne snapped her elegant fingers in the air. “Now, about that offer, Doctor, if you are considering couch therapy …”

                                                            *

The guests were called together at one o’clock to feast on a sumptuous luncheon. Mid-way through the gala, Julie left her barely touched plate and walked over to a table situated adjacent to the main one, to view the beautifully decorated, two-tiered wedding cake. She stared for a long time at the miniature bride and groom ornamenting the top of the cake. She suddenly ached for the dysfunctional mother whom she would never see again, and, at the same time, a rush of abusive memories threatened to paralyze her.

Out of the blue, Dianne appeared and handed Julie a napkin. “Here, you’ll want to wipe the kool-aid ring above your lips.”

Julie rubbed the paper napkin over her mouth and crumpled it into a ball.

“Come with me,” Diane smiled down at her.

Julie followed the vision in the rustling, white taffeta dress across the lawn, away from the celebration. They stopped beneath the network of paper wedding bells where splendid arrays of white, silver and gold packages were spread out on the table.

“It’s too early to open gifts,” Dianne explained. “We must wait for the proper time but I want you to open this one.” She picked up a small package wrapped in glossy white paper and handed it to Julie.

“Go ahead, open it.”

Steadily, Julie looked up at Dianne. She dropped the napkin on the grass and ripped the paper off the box, removing its cover. Inside a folded tissue lay a gold charm bracelet with a triangle charm fastened to it. She held the dainty piece up in order to read the inscription appearing on each flat surface of the charm. It bore the names of Hugh, Dianne and Julie. A tiny silver cross dangled in the middle with the name Levitt and the wedding date inscribed on it. She extended her thin arm out to the flushed bride. “Put it on my wrist!”

“Please,” Dianne coaxed.

Julie rolled her eyes impatiently. “Please.”

Dianne secured the hasp. An intense, warm feeling came over Julie and she burrowed her face into a pleasantly-scented bosom. In the next moment, Hugh’s strong arms encircled them both. At that moment, Julie knew in her heart contentment would grow.

Copyright © Patricia Crandall

Tuesday
Oct162018

Nadia Bhagg Manages the System

Nadia Bhagg pulled on her winter jacket, grabbed her purse, and went outside to her car. She walked cautiously across the driveway, icy from freezing rain.

She reckoned with a little luck and a prayer, it was an ideal time to draw out the rogue who was stalking her and her family during ice and freezing rain storms. It had all began in December during the first ice storm of the season. Her son Joe had been forced off the road into a ditch. Then it had been daughter Tam. Each had described a red Dodge truck appearing suddenly behind them, bumping their car until they lost control of the vehicle and it went off the road. Fortunately for the Bhagg's no-one had been seriously injured  thus far.

As she suspected, the back road to the PC Market was covered with black ice. Nadia choked up on the wheel and adjusted the speed of the Subaru to twenty miles an hour.

Suddenly a red truck appeared and rammed the rear bumper of her Subaru. With her heart racing, Nadia raised her eyes to the rear view mirror and exchanged looks with a blood-curdling, defiant stare.

The truck struck the bumper repeated. The Subaru spun, left the road and struck a tree.

                                                            *  

Sergeant Patsy Dibbs stared at Nadia Bhagg’s swollen, black and blue eyes. Gauze bandages swathed her bruised hands and arms.

“Why not spot the person now?” the tall and slender policewoman asked. Her silken blond hair was twisted into a tousled knot at the nape of her neck.

“Later,” Nadia said, grim-faced, her brown eyes looking even darker beneath the bruises.

“Okay, then, I’ll read your statement back to you, Mrs. Bhagg.”

Patsy accepted a printed form from Nick Barnes. The EMS technician had transported Nadia to her home from the ER at St. Theresa’s hospital. “If this is correct, please sign your name by the X.”

“On the way to the Price Chopper Market in Bennington, Vermont, I, Nadia Bhagg, while driving along roads where black ice frequently appeared, was tailgated by a red pick-up truck. I slowed to less than twenty miles per hour due to the hazardous conditions and the truck rammed the rear bumper of my Suburu. My car was repeatedly struck until it spun out of control, left the road and crashed into a tree.”

“Is this statement correct?”

Nadia winced as she nodded her head. “Yes.”

                                                            *

As she signed her name, several family members crowded into the small, spice-scented kitchen.

"Ma, what happened?" Joe Bhaggs removed his hat and slammed it down on the counter. "You know better than to drive  in weather like this." His dark eyes stared at his mother behind his glasses. "You're aware of the situation we're dealing with."

“I’m fine, Joe. Please don’t fuss.” Nadia's split lips turned down reflexively.

Grandson Joe Junior, a slump-shouldered youth, scuffed over to the counter and helped himself to a chocolate chip square from the cookie jar.

Slack-faced Jacob, another grandson, widened his stance and cracked his knuckles.

Nadia considered the police officer and said, “Families are complicated, aren't they, Sergeant?"

Patsy Dibbs eyes widened.

Nadia went on in an exhausted voice.  "You cannot conceive of my agony, my despair when I looked into the rear view mirror and saw the devil behind the wheel of the truck manifested as one of my kin.” She lowered her voice. “The family calls 911 every time he terrorizes one of us.”

Joe Bhagg, braced against the faded counter, cleared his throat. “Ma, we’re private folks. We’ll deal with our own.”

Pushing back gray tendrils of loose hair, Nadia said sternly, “This kin ends up in jail and the evaluators send him to rehab where a calming medication is administered. Within a week, he’s released because he acts normal.” She folded her bandaged hands across her bosom. “I don’t want to repeat this scenario, Sergeant Dibbs. I want this latest incident treated as a medical emergency and not as a crime scene.”

Joe Junior darted toward the door. The tech tackled him and pinned him down. With an assist from Junior's father and brother, Barnes gave him a sedation injection to stabilize him.

“Sorry, Jacob,” Patsy Dibbs said moments later, “I had you pegged for the car basher and not your brother.” She shifted her gaze back to Nadia. “I’ll facilitate Joe Junior's treatment through my captain’s recommendations and those of the head psychiatrist at the psychiatric ward. I guarantee he will remain in the clinic for as long as it takes to treat his illness. Thereafter, he’ll have the proper follow-up and drug therapy.” She looked solemnly at Nadia. “In the meantime, Joe Junior will be charged for this crime but it’s likely to be tossed due to his illness.”

After everyone left, Nadia collapsed in her favorite chair and blessed herself. It was hard managing a futile system, one that forced her to stage an accident. If she had managed well, Joe Junior would get the remedial assistance he so badly needed for schizophrenia and the family would begin to heal.

Copyright © Patricia Crandall

Tuesday
Sep042018

A Pinch of Spice

Clara and Dory Marchand sat at their linen-covered table with a fresh yellow rose in a Majolica vase set upon it.           

“Delicious dear,” Dory exclaimed abstractedly to her younger sister as she daintily dunked a finger of currant teacake into the hot Oolong tea and tasted it. She gazed out the filmy curtained window across the traffic at the graffiti-neighborhood. Frowning, her eyes focused on a newly printed message painted on the back of a boarded, red-brick building. Goodbye Dear, the communiqué read.           

“What an odd message,” Dory sighed. “At least this newly painted exhibition isn’t obscene. Still, it’s too much to endure and with Papa and Mama’s money dwindling we’re at the mercy of insurance agents, doctor’s bills and phone bills. And, how are we going to afford fuel oil this winter?” She poured more tea into her chipped china cup. “You do realize, Clara, we’ve nothing left but a few pieces of Imari porcelain, some gold jewelry, and two of Grandmama Ceal’s diamond brooches. Besides, it is humiliating to be forced to sit here and watch

Larchmore Street deteriorate before our eyes.” She straightened her shoulders and said, “It’s time we sell our property to the state, Clara. With or without our consent, they’ll tear it down and build the civic center before you can say Betty White.”

Clara patted her lips with a musty linen napkin. She said unyielding in a croaky voice, “I’ll never agree to sell our home, Dory. Let’s not go into that topic again.”

“Say, your teacakes are very good, Clara, as usual. Yet, they taste different.” She ran her tongue over her lips. “Did you add a new spice?”

“How clever of you to notice,” Clara said distinctly.

Dory continued on boldly, “I’ve decided to sell this house and land to the state. You can’t persuade me any longer to do otherwise. I own 51% of the property, thanks to Papa deeming me all-knowing and wise. I intend to contact Mr. Price at the bank tomorrow. I’m sorry ... I know you cherish this Victorian Lady. It’s been in our family for five generations.” She flung her long, thin arm theatrically.  “Imagine a new beginning, Clara. The Chasebourne Town Houses are lovely.”

Dory finished her teacake. Suddenly, her wide, terrified eyes fixed themselves on her sister’s pudgy, paint-stained hand. Her twisting hands fluttered to her neck as she drew her last breath.

Goodbye, dear,” Clara murmured, thinking she would dispose of the remains of *White Snakeroot she had collected in the nearby woodland and added a pinch to the teacake mix.  

A dreamy expression came on her heavily rouged, wrinkled face. There would be no more bickering about the house on Larchmore Street. It was hers forevermore.

 

*White Snakeroot - a poisonous weed native to North America. Habitat: woodlands, thickets, meadows and pastures.

Copyright © 2018 Patricia Crandall

Friday
Jun082018

Not Suitable Viewing for Children

“Study this photo, class, and tell me what you see,” instructed Lewis Golden, a math teacher at the Marin Middle School in Carmen, New York. Lew held up a picture of a tortured, dismembered body. The seventh graders squealed with delight before he slapped the picture face down on his desk and took several deep breaths to compose himself.

The realization came too late. When he stopped by the crime lab this morning to have a cup of coffee with his brother Ralph in nearby Renssalear, he picked up the wrong folder from his brother’s cluttered desk. Lew’s folder had photos of rare plant and insect specimens which he was going to incorporate into a statistical study project for the class in session.

Right now, faced with the prospect of having to scrap the Tuesday morning project, he decided he could make this error work for him.

Giving the class a five minute drill assignment, and managing to keep his breakfast down while flipping through the grotesque photos in his brother’s gory collection, Lew chose several photos suitable for viewing by the youngsters.

 Lew rapped his desk with a pointer. “Class, there will be a change in format. Rather than studying plant and insect specimens, we’ll identify geometric patterns and shapes.”

Moaning and caterwauling erupted in the classroom.

“We’ll make the project fun. I promise.” Lew indicated the photograph pinched between his thumb and forefinger, depicting a large metal beam falling from a New York City skyscraper with black geometric patterns of tall and angular buildings in the background.

“Who will be first to identify two geometric shapes and give a brief sci-fi fantasy?” Lew asked.

A wriggling hand rose in the third to last row.

“Jeremy Therry.” Lew nodded at the tall, stocky youth.

Jeremy stood up awkwardly and said in a changing voice, “I see two squares a little left to the asymmetrical gray shapes in the middle of those big buildings. The squares are alien computer boxes and Venus microchips are stored inside them, meaning big trouble for the people in New York City.” He pressed inky fingertips to his pudgy lips. “Uh, Mr. Golden, can we see those other pictures, pul-ease.”

All of the youngsters chanted, “More, more…of what we had before.”

Lew scratched the stubble on his chin. “For obvious reasons, class, we cannot view the first set of photos. I apologize for my absentmindedness. I must return that package of photographs to Detective Golden as soon as possible.”

Lew grimaced at the thought of Ralph frantically searching for the explicit crime photos in his smoky, airless office at the Rensselaer Police Headquarters. He winced at the thought of Ralph’s reaction as he eyed the pastoral nature scenes. He planned to call him during recess to confirm the mix-up.

“Let’s continue.” He gave Jeremy permission to sit down.

A small, straight arm stretched upwards.

Golden looked over his glasses at the waif-like Tarah Lawrence.

Tarah arose lazily, twiddling a pink plastic medallion hanging on a silk ribbon circling her neck. She squinted hard at the picture, having left her eyeglasses at home. “I see,” she said in a tiny voice, “a message. It’s inside a triangle and there’s another message inside a square.” She looked shyly at her instructor.

Lew drummed his fingers on his desk contemplating what appeared to him to be squiggles.

“And what do these messages say, Tarah?”

A funny expression came on Tarah’s face. She said, “from right to left…’Horse is smoked’…that’s in the triangle, and in the square, ‘Ashes are snorted’…’Runner’ is printed in the small script at the bottom of the page.”

Lew knew just enough about police work to be dangerous. Intuitively, he felt Tarah was on to something. Why, he couldn’t say. He just did.

“How did you come by these messages, Tarah?”

“The codes are written in hieroglyphics, Mr. Golden,” Tarah explained. “My dad is an Ancient History Professor at MST College. He and I decipher hieroglyphics every night after supper, instead of watching television. It’s like a game. Sometimes we play Monopoly, Clue, or Scrabble, too.”

Lew announced in a loud voice, “Class, go to your library stations immediately and bring your math assignments. Ms. Harris will monitor you while I attend to some urgent business with Tarah.”

“Not fair!” the class thumped their desks before order could be maintained.

*

Lew Golden sat opposite his brother, Ralph, and Ralph’s superior, Detective Mick Connors, in Connor’s paper-littered office at the 7th Street Precinct in Rensselaer.

Tarah Lawrence leaned forward on the desk with chin in her hands, sipping a Diet Pepsi through a straw. Her dad stood behind her with his back against the wall, his arms folded tightly across his chest.

“Tarah,” Lew coaxed. “I want you to answer Investigator Golden’s questions about the assignment we did in class today.”

Tarah slurped Pepsi and nodded.

Ralph Golden’s stern, hard-lined face softened as he spoke, “Tarah, this photograph is important to an investigation we are doing into a drug ring. Will you decode the hieroglyphics for us?” He made eye contact with her father.

“Tarah’s an expert.” Ty Lawrence said with confidence. 

“Repeat to me what the message in the triangle means,” Detective Golden pressed.

Tarah viewed the skyscrapers.

“Horse,” Tarah answered.

“And in the big square?”

“Ashes.” In a tiny, breathless voice, she added, “And in the middle square, the little words mean ‘Bronx.’” Then she pointed to the square at the bottom of the page. “‘Runner.’”

Ralph rolled his chair back and said to his brother, “Do me a favor, Lew, give an A plus or higher to Tarah if that’s possible. This young lady has cracked a tough case. That photo, which was on its way to a dealer and was intercepted by one of our men, has been dubbed at the Precinct, The Mysterious Photograph. No one in the squad has been able to come up with a solution. I’ve just made contact with an expert to decode these hieroglyphics. Along comes a pint-sized kid in my academic brother’s classroom who decodes messages through hieroglyphics with her dad, and lifts the lid off a million dollar heroin ring that reached from South East Asia to New York City and Albany.”

Mick Connors twisted his 6’ 4” frame out of his chair. He dwarfed the others in the room and said, “I’ll never let my men live this down. Furthermore, due to the crime-busting success of Miss Lawrence, guess what’s going to be a requirement for all squad members including you, Ralph.”

He turned to Detective Golden.

Ralph rolled his eyes. “I can’t wait to hear this.”

“Hieroglyphics!” Connors sneered.      

*

The Lawrences’ left the Precinct, having been assured the drug dealers would be arrested and jailed for a long time.

Lou laughed at the smouldering look on his brother’s face.

“Must I take a course in hieroglyphics?” Ralph lip-synced.

 “What was the message Tarah decoded?” Lew broke into his brother’s meanderings.

Ralph massaged the back of his neck and said, “The message in the triangle alluded to ‘Horse,’ and the one in the square, ‘Ashes’ – in some cases equals ‘smack,’ both of which to drug users are known as heroin. The tiny, cramped wording in the bottom square refers to the ‘Bronx,” where the dope was to be cut and diluted into a quantity four times its original weight.

Once cut and packaged for sale, it was to be shipped to drug peddlers upstate. With the help of the national computer system, I was able to track the code in the square at the bottom of the page revealing Eddie Hodges, alias ‘Runner,’ as head of the ring. Hodges has eluded international police and our police force for more years than I care to remember. Once in a while you get lucky.”

*

There was a buzz of excitement in the middle school auditorium. Tarah Lawrence stood beaming on the stage. Her parents stood at her right, and teacher, Lew Golden, at her left.

 Detective Ralph Golden was behind the podium, flanked by Detective Mick Connors and several officers from the Rensselaer Precinct. Detective Golden looked out at the audience consisting mostly of students being hushed by their teachers. He cleared his throat and explained how the mix-up between the two folders had transpired. He went on to describe the success Tarah Lawrence had in decoding the hieroglyphics which led to the closure of the Mysterious Photograph case.

In a formidable voice, he said, “Tarah Lawrence, we present you with this $300.00 check and a plaque stating you are a Nancy Drew Detective in the Renssalear Police Department. We look forward to your further sleuthing with the Force in the future.”

There was a standing ovation and loud applause from the audience as Tarah wobbled up to the podium in high-clog shoes to accept her awards.

“And to my brother, Ralph Golden, who wisely brought the answers to the drug ring to our attention, albeit through a mistake, I return your manila folder.”

There were hoots and hollers from the students as Lew accepted the nature prints from Ralph and returned a brotherly grin.

Ralph motioned Tarah to come forward again, and handed her an envelope. “The Police Department also wishes to send you and a classmate, Mr. Golden, and Dad, in a limo to The Dinosaur Restaurant for dinner.”

Tarah Lawrence and Lew Golden raised their entwined hands in the air. Lew shouted, “Hey kids – it doesn’t get any better than this!”

Copyright © 2018 Patricia Crandall

Friday
May112018

A Catty Arrangement

Maya Bull raised a pair of opera glasses to her eyes and adjusted them. There was no denying the fact there was a mystery at the decrepit manse across the street.

“The Jarvis place is infested with cats," she grumbled. "I must find out who’s feeding them before the situation worsens.” She swung the posh glasses across her large breasts and flounced across the deck of her 'Painted Lady' Victorian house. Inside the Chintz parlor, she picked up the antique gilded phone and called the Mayor’s office.

“Maya Bull!" Mayor Casavetti drawled. "How nice to hear your voice, darlin.’ What can I do for you?”

“Cut the bullcrap, Harry. I’ll not attend another Chamber of Commerce banquet or chair another social event until you and the police do something about that sad excuse of a Jarvis property across the street from my house. It’s devaluing my assets. Someone’s breaking in to the abandoned manse and feeding cats.”

“Now, wait a minute, Maya. As we speak, I’m setting a plan in motion with the Beautification Committee, and …”

Maya hung up the phone and made a face at a broken manicured nail.

Maya bustled across Perry Winkle Street, and pressed through a field of high grass to the Jarvis estate. Her mind wandered to a happier time when she and Glory Jarvis were neighbors and best friends. It was a charming time when the estate lawn and gardens were beautified by lavender and rose bushes and bordered by Azalea and Rhododendrons. There was a carriage house, a white barn with a cupola, several out-buildings and a stately white picket fence. Maya and Glory ran between fences and enjoyed special culinary treats in each other’s kitchens. It saddened her to witness its run-down condition.  

“Hello Maya.” Lieutenant Lex Wheeler greeted.

“Hey Maya, how do you manage to walk through the rutted field in those high heeled shoes?” Sergeant Alan Banks asked.

“The same way you walk in your shoes, Alan, with two feet.”

She considered the 6’5” well-built Wheeler and short, rotund, bald Banks and managed to hold back a scathing retort. “Now tell me, did you find the intruder?”

Lieutenant Wheeler fidgeted with a protective mask hanging around his neck. He spat on the ground. “Maya, there’s not a sign of anyone inhabiting the Jarvis place except cats. Is it possible a neighborhood kid or an animal lover’s feeding those pussies when no-one is looking?” He waved his big hand toward empty tins of cat food littering the sagging front porch.

Maya’s steely eyes settled on the Lieutenant, a former childhood sweetheart. “Isn’t there anyone else on duty besides the two of you? The mystery should’ve been solved by now. There is a violator coming and going on the premises because I pick up paper litter, bottles, and empty cat tins in the yard every day. At least bottles can be recycled for cash.” She sighed. “And I give the proceeds to Kit House, a haven for abandoned cats.” 

“We solve a good percentage of the cases we investigate, Maya. I guarantee you there’s no-one in that house. We’ve searched it from end to end and top to bottom.” Lieutenant Wheeler wrinkled his nose. “It reeks of cat pee. How the intruders are getting in is beyond me. The place is boarded and locked up tight.”

Maya looked beyond the policemen to the front of the Jarvis house. The officers followed her gaze.

“There he is!” She pointed to a shadowy form passing by a window.

As they raced toward the house, the front door opened. The officers stiffened to attention drawing guns, then relaxed their stance.

An old woman dressed in a soiled, baggy housedress, and rolled-up socks covering swollen feet, lowered a plastic tray of cat food onto the porch. An army of mewing cats swarmed up the steps and pounced on the food.

“Glory Jarvis!” Maya stepped aside as the animals raced past her. “Where have you been? I thought you were dead and buried.”

In a surprisingly vital voice, the miscreant said, “I’m as much flesh and blood as you are, Maya.” She pinched the loose, hanging flesh of her forearm until it reddened and turned white.

“Glory, do you mean to tell me you’ve been living as a recluse in the old homestead all this time?” Maya asked unbelieving.

Glory laughed half-crazed, “I may be the ‘black sheep’ of the Jarvis family, but I’ve outlived the lot. I’ve come back to claim what’s rightfully mine, the Jarvis house and my fortune. No one in town’s any wiser.” She grinned, exposing gaps between her teeth. “I’ve been living with my cats’ right under your noses.”

The officers looked at each other in confusion. Lieutenant Wheeler stepped forward. “Miss Jarvis, Sergeant Banks and I have searched your place many times. How did you manage to avoid us?”

The unkempt, wild-haired woman shuffled forward and said in an irritating, high voice. “Tch tch. Neither of you gentlemen opened the hatch door beneath the rug in the kitchen floor. If you had, you would’ve seen stairs going down to the root cellar. I hid in the potato bin under burlap bags when you paraded through.”

“How did you get food for yourself and the cats without anyone seeing you?” Sergeant Banks folded his arms across his broad chest.

Glory tucked her mouth tightly at the corners as though savoring a hidden amusement. “God willing when my feet aren’t badly swollen, I go out at night and walk three quarters of a mile to the People’s Market on Route 11. Not many people in Winnipee shop late at night. Besides, the young clerks aren’t interested in the comings and goings of a bag lady.”

With obvious stiffness, Glory lowered herself down on an uneven step of the porch. Cats vied for space on her ample lap and her chest heaved with a racking cough.

“I’m tired of hiding.” She looked forlornly at Maya. “You don’t know how much I’ve wanted to ask you to come over and have a cuppa’ tea.”

Maya pulled the officers to one side. She said, “If I’d any inkling Glory was the intruder, I’d have gone about this in a different manner.”

Lieutenant Wheeler scratched his head. “We must act on this, Maya. The authorities and trustees in New York City must be notified immediately. They’ve been looking for Glory since she disappeared from her Manhattan apartment seven months ago. We, too, feared the worst.”

“I know you must move on this,” She nodded from one to the other. “But remember in the nineteen fifties the Jarvis house was a showplace when T. J. Jarvis ran the lumber yard, employing eighty-five percent of Winnipee. Now Glory’s the last one; she has no family.”

She shielded her eyes from the direct glare of the sun. “It’s obvious she’ll need to live in an assisted living residence. She may fight it but under these circumstances Social Services will not allow her to live alone. When that’s settled, I’ll speak to the mayor about converting the estate into a cultural center. The Jarvis’ would prefer that option to having the old mansion torn down.”

“If you take responsibility, Maya, I hope you realize what you’re in for,” Lieutenant Wheeler, still smitten by her perfect dimples and long-lashed green eyes, persisted.

“I’m aware of the consequences.”

The policemen turned to leave.

“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Maya asked in a voice that was saccharine sweet and melodic.

Lieutenant Wheeler made a dismissive gesture with a shrug of his shoulders. “What else could there be, Maya?”

 “Cats!”

The officers moaned. There would be the Humane Society to contend with. Not to mention the Animal Lover Activists and Kit House. Sergeant Banks put his hand on his gun.

Glory wagged a finger. “Keep that weapon in your holster, young man.”

Lieutenant Wheeler grimaced. “Start filling out forms, Sergeant. I’ll count cats.”  

Copyright © 2018 Patricia Crandall