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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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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