Table of Contents
About This Book
About Evidence in the Echinacea
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About the Author
About This Book
Riches to rags. … Chaos quiets. … Crime is circling. … And cold cases never cease …
After almost a month in picturesque Kelowna, Doreen Montgomery still can’t keep her notoriety to a minimum or her nose out of other people’s business. Now those suffering from the loss of a loved one seek her out, wanting her help. While the last thing Doreen wants is to have the media discover she’s involved in another cold case, she is already hooked on the details …
But even more is going on. News has gotten out that Nan’s old house is brimming over with valuable antiques, antiques Nan collected and left for Doreen, and the seedier elements of their lovely town are circling like vultures. With her animals in full assistant mode, Doreen must investigate the cold case, right the wrongs of the past, and keep her home safe, all while evading the media—and Corporal Mack Moreau.
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Wednesday Morning, One Day After Solving Her Last Case…
Doreen Montgomery opened the front door to her home, pulling away the madly barking Mugs from the entrance. Since arriving in Kelowna to live in her Nan’s house, she’d been adapting from her old life as a wife to a mega rich man to being a single woman living on her own – in poverty. She and her pedigreed basset hound had been saved from a bad marriage, where neither of them had been loved, to her new life with Goliath, an oversized Maine Coon cat and a talkative – sometimes too talkative – African Gray Parrot named Thaddeus. The moment there was a knock o; n her door, complete chaos ensued. Like now…
She stared at the stranger in surprise. He didn’t look like media but the vans outside, the crowd with tripods and cameras said he most likely was. Mugs calmed slightly but he switched to sniffing the stranger’s pant legs.
Suspiciously, she asked, “Yes, may I help you?”
The man in a three-piece suit, looking extremely elegant and way too perfect for the small town of Kelowna, particularly for her neglected house, smiled and held out his hand. “I’m Scott Rosten, an appraiser from Christie’s, the auction house.”
“Oh my,” she said in excitement. She shook his hand with a little too much enthusiasm. “I wasn’t expecting you until this afternoon.” At her tone, Mugs started to get excited. She shushed him and moved Mugs back so Mr. Rosten could come inside away from the media watching avidly from the edge of her property. With a satisfied shove she slammed the door to the flashing bulbs outside. She turned with a bright smile to Mr. Rosten. “Sorry about them.” She waved at the media outside. “Things have been crazy here.”
“No problem. My flight got in early,” Mr. Rosten explained, his gaze locked on Thaddeus, her African gray parrot on her shoulder. “There didn’t seem to be any reason to wait, so, if I’m not putting you out, is it possible to talk to you now?”
He motioned at Thaddeus. “Wow. Is he friendly?”
“Absolutely. This is Thaddeus.”
“Welcome. Welcome,” Thaddeus squawked.
“Thank you,” Mr. Rosten said chuckling. “He’s quite a character.”
“That he is, and I’m glad you’re here. The earlier the better as far as I’m concerned.” She motioned to the mess around her. “Take a look around, Mr. Rosten.”
“Call me Scott.” He stepped further into the living room, his gaze locked on the closest piece of furniture. “Wow.”
She gazed at him anxiously. “Wow? Is that a good wow or a bad wow?”
“It could be a very good wow.” Without hesitation he went to the first little chair, picked it up, checking the maker’s mark. “You see items like these in pictures, but they aren’t quite the same as seeing them in real life.”
“Not to mention there’s just something about the feel of real wood in your hands,” she replied bending down to tug Mugs back slightly, so he wasn’t in the way.
“If you’re an antiques lover, there’s also a reverence for the history behind each piece,” he said, his fingers gently caressing the carved feet, then the edges where the cushions met. “These are absolutely stupendous.”
“Do you think they’re real?” She hated to ask so bluntly but didn’t know any other way to say it.
The antiques appraiser looked at her in surprise. “Oh, they are definitely real.”
“Right. Okay. So I know they’re real wood, and I know they’re real furniture, but are they real antiques?” She scrunched up her face. Doreen, get a hold of yourself. You’re acting like a fool, a greedy fool. “I’m not explaining myself very well,” she said.
He held up a hand. “You’re doing just fine. What you’re really asking is, are these the same rare pieces we were hoping they were. And I can tell you, for this one in my hand, the answer is yes.”
“And there’s that one,” she said, pointing at the second one across the room. Immediately Thaddeus walked down her arm and sat on her wrist. She chuckled and walked over to place him on the mantel.
Scott walked to the matching chair, picked it up, studied it, placed it beside the first chair, then fell to his knees in front of the coffee table. “Wow. Just look at the work that went into this.”
“Wow, just wow,” Thaddeus cried out as he hopped from the mantel to the back of the chair they’d been looking at.
“Don’t mind him,” Doreen said as Scott stared at Thaddeus in surprise. “He loves to repeat our words.”
“He’s amazing.” Scott reached out a finger smiling as Thaddeus stroked his finger with his beak. “He’s lovely.”
“And he’ll take all your attention if you let him,” she warned.
“Good point.” Scott turned his attention back to the furniture. “Can you give me a hand?”
It took the two of them to gently flip the coffee table so he could see the maker’s mark and the numbers on the underside.
He nodded. “These are three pieces of the same matched set. I was so hoping the photographs didn’t lie. But until I came and checked it for myself …”
“And the couch?” she asked, her voice doubtful. “It’s really big.” At her words, Mugs jumped up on the couch and immediately stretched out. Horrified, Doreen quickly moved him off. “Mugs get off,” she cried. “Sorry, Scott.”
“Don’t be. The couch has been well loved. It’s part of life. And the size of the couch is what makes it part of that very unique set. Montague only did two like this. It was intended for a large bedroom sitting area. He wanted it to match the bed.”
Together they slowly flipped the couch, which was at least big enough to seat six. He checked it for scratches, smiled when he saw a couple, then crowed in delight when he looked at the maker’s mark and said, “This is all the same set.”
“Does that mean you think you can auction them off for a decent price?”
“Absolutely.” He looked at her. “Are you ready to let them go?”
“Interesting that you should ask that. Before I realized this furniture belonged to my great-great-grandmother, I had zero attachment. Now that I know they’ve been in my family for a century, it’s a little harder, but yes,” she said looking around at her living room. “I can’t even sit on them anymore now that I’m so petrified of damaging them.”
“They have been sat on by your family for generations,” Scott said. “I know you say they were in your family, and your grandmother is still alive. It’s on her word that these pieces were in her grandmother’s possession. Do you have any paperwork that proves provenance?”
“That’s a new word I’ve just learned,” Doreen said with a smile. “Fen Gunderson is the one who first introduced me to how important that is. My grandmother says a folder is in the house somewhere, but I’m not sure where it is. I was hoping we could move out some of these pieces, and then potentially I could find it.”
“Right,” he said. “I understand you have the matching bed too, correct?”
Doreen nodded, heading to the hallway. Mugs raced ahead of them.
“A bed and two night tables,” she said, walking to the staircase.
Scott looked over the moon at her words.
She led him upstairs, apologizing every step, saying, “I’m sorry. I wasn’t expecting you until this afternoon, so I didn’t clean up yet.”
“Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter at all.” He chuckled as Goliath ran up the inside curve of the stairs, his movements fast and lithe.
Goliath was a huge golden Maine coon cat and had come with Nan’s house as part of Doreen’s gift from her grandmother. He was the size of a bobcat, but that didn’t scare Scott, so the appraiser must really like animals. She knew she’d like him. And not just because he was here for her antiques.
“The animals are curious too,” Scott noted.
On the heel of his words, Thaddeus cried out pathetically from the upstairs hallway, “Curious animals. Curious animals.”
Scott laughed. “And a talking parrot.”
“He is indeed and they are all curious.” Doreen said as she scooped up Thaddeus. The large beautiful blue-gray parrot with long red tail feathers also came with Nan’s house. Doreen was getting used to his constant repetitions. And definitely enjoyed his affectionate nature.
When they walked into the master bedroom, Scott stopped, delighted. Whereas she frowned. Both Goliath and Mugs had stretched out on top of the bedding. She groaned. Thankfully Scott didn’t seem to care. He was standing enthralled.
“We sent pictures of the furniture in this room to Christie’s,” she said, placing Thaddeus on the window ledge. “I guess you’ve seen them already.”
“And again the pictures don’t do this set justice,” he said with a smile. He lovingly stroked one of the large posts. “Absolutely beautiful.”
“If you think so,” she said. “Honestly, it’s been my bed. So it doesn’t seem out of the ordinary. I’ve been sleeping in it.”
“Montague always designed a couple small drawers into the headboard. May I look?”
“Absolutely,” she said, watching in surprise. “Why would he do that?”
“Because he wanted a place to put his glasses and for the pills he had to take at night. Montague built these little drawers to suit his needs. As I said, he built two complete sets. It was his way of covering his costs. One set for himself and one set for sale.”
Scott sat down on the side of the bed and gently checked out the headboard. And, sure enough, it didn’t take but a few minutes before she heard a light clicking noise, and a drawer popped out. Scott turned to look at her. “It’s here,” he said. “And now I know for sure this is his piece.”
Doreen looked in the drawer, but it was empty. She hated the sense of letdown she felt when she hadn’t even realized a drawer was here to begin with.
Goliath shifted on the bed beside them and rolled over, his tail flicking as he watched Scott carefully. Thaddeus hopped down to the mattress and walked closer to Scott. “Welcome, Scott. Welcome, Scott.”
Scott chuckled. “He’s quite something, isn’t he?”
“You have no idea,” Doreen muttered. Even as she watched, Thaddeus walked closer to Scott. He seemed very interested in their visitor. He didn’t usually care who was here.
He got up and walked to the other side, asking, “Do you want to see how they open?”
Doreen nodded and leaned over his shoulder as he pressed a tiny little button. Sure enough, the second little secret drawer popped open. “Nan said her grandmother used to hide treats for her in a lot of the furniture, so Nan ran around and searched for stuff all the time.”
“Well …” He lifted a gold-foiled chocolate. Thaddeus waddled closer the shiny foil attracting his attention. “That’s what this is then. Maybe you should deliver it to Nan. Although it’s likely decades late.” Scott gently brushed Thaddeus back as he held the treat out to Doreen. “This isn’t for you, big guy.”
Thaddeus’ crown lifted high and his head bobbed. “Treat for the big guy. Treat for the big guy.”
Scott chuckled. “You’d better take this before he decides it’s his.”
Doreen held out her hand, completely enchanted at the thought of her grandmother as a little girl, running around the house, searching for chocolates. “This is a very special moment,” she whispered. “Would you mind if we placed it back in the drawer? I want to take a picture to show her.”
“If you’re still willing to sell,” Scott said, “I do have to arrange for proper shipping. And that’ll take a couple days. Every piece has to be wrapped properly before moving them.”
“Understood,” she said. But she really hadn’t considered what the process would be. In the back of her mind she was thinking an hour and they’d be all done. But … somehow she doubted it.
He looked at her. “But that means you don’t have a bed.”
She smiled up at him. “I’m also starving. I don’t have a job, and I’m trying to keep the roof over my head. I can find another bed to sleep in.”
He nodded in understanding. “That’s good.” He looked at the night tables. “To find both the sitting room set and the bedroom set is absolutely wonderful. The second set is no longer together.”
“Are there other pieces that go with the set, other than what we’ve found so far?”
He nodded. “Three dressers—a tallboy, a short boy, and a vanity.” He looked around the room, his eyes lighting on the vanity.
She’d never seen a grown man cry. But he stood trembling in front of it, as if it was the best thing he’d ever seen in his life. She got up and asked, “Is this the vanity piece?”
He just nodded. Completely unable to talk.
“I guess that’s one of the pieces then.” She opened the drawers. “I haven’t had a chance to go through this vanity yet.”
“We should do that now,” he said, “because I should check the label underneath, confirming it’s part of the same set. And that mirror looks like it’s very delicate.”
She was afraid to move it, but they dragged it forward, with Mugs getting in the way at every step and Thaddeus insisting on riding on her shoulder. Finally Scott could slip behind and check for the mark he sought, one on the mirror and one on the vanity itself.
When he stood, such a sense of peace appeared on his face. He kept stroking the edge of the mirror. “It’s definitely one of the pieces. Two hidden drawers should also be in this piece.”
She looked at him in surprise. “Where?”
He chuckled. “How about I give you a few minutes to see if you can figure them out yourself?”
She didn’t see any drawers like the headboard had. As Thaddeus hopped then walked the surface of the dresser, her fingers slid over the top and then the side. She shrugged and looked at him. “I haven’t a clue.”
“That’s one of the reasons to empty the drawers. Because one of the secret drawers is behind one of the big drawers.”
She grabbed empty boxes and an empty laundry hamper nearby and then opened the drawers, gently sliding the contents into the boxes. Everything from papers, notebooks, perfume, and some jewelry had been stored in the vanity. It was going to take time to sort through and this was obviously not the time.
There were seven drawers—three on each side and a big drawer across the center. With all the drawers out, sitting on the vanity stool, Scott pushed a small depression on the panel inside where the drawers sat, and a drawer popped out at the very back. He removed the drawer. Inside was a little padded velvet envelope. He picked it up and handed it to her. Thaddeus made an odd cawing sound.
“It’s not yours either,” Doreen said affectionately. “Regardless of what you think.”
She released the catch and poured into her hand what appeared to be a locket. She opened it, and her breath caught in the back of her throat. “Oh my.” Inside was an image of a woman who was maybe fifty and on the other side was a baby.
“Do you know those people?”
“I think this is my Nan,” she said, tapping the woman’s face. “And I’ll say that’s me.”
“Well, there you go. Family is family.” He replaced the drawer. “Is it your mother or your father who is Nan’s child?”
“My father,” she said, “and he died, after a wild and reckless life, of a drug overdose many, many years ago. My mom stayed friends with Nan for my sake and because Nan helped us a lot when I was growing up.” Doreen carefully closed the locket and put it back in the velvet pouch. Not wanting to lose it, she slipped it into her pocket. “I’ll ask Nan about it.”
“You do that. Now let’s find the other drawer.” It was on the right side. He popped open the other secret drawer and found yet again another gold-foiled chocolate in it. Doreen laughed in delight and took another photograph, picked up the chocolate, and put it beside the first one she had set on the windowsill. Thaddeus immediately flew to the window ledge.
“Thaddeus,” she warned, “don’t you dare …” With an odd snorting sound Thaddeus ruffled his feathers and shot her an injured look. She kept a wary eye on him as she turned her attention back to Scott.
He admired the vanity. “You are truly blessed.”
“And I didn’t even know what I had,” Doreen said with a smile.
“You don’t appear to have the two other dressers.”
“A dresser is in the back of the closet,” she said. “I can’t reach it.”
Scott eyed the closet, almost rubbing his hands together, and said, “It would be really good if we could see it.”
She pulled open the closet doors so he could see what a nightmare it was inside. Even as the doors opened it was the push of the stuffed clothing inside being released that slammed the doors wide open. All they could see was the hangers full of garments.
Scott gasped, then chuckled. “Your grandmother is a clothes horse.”
“Obviously.” Doreen pushed back some of the hanging items so he could see in the back of the closet. “There’s the dresser. It’s short though.”
He burrowed in with her. “We need to pull it out,” he said in excitement.
It was very hard to do, but inch by inch, they cleared a path and moved the dresser forward. When it was finally standing free of the clutter of the closet, Doreen realized it looked to be part of the same set.
“That tells you how these pieces have been treated,” she said with a shake of her head. “Instead of being prized possessions, this one was shoved in the closet for extra storage.”
Scott busily examined it.
“Do we know for sure this dresser is part of the set?” she asked, waiting with bated breath to hear his answer.
He gave her a shout of joy and said, “Come look for yourself.”
She bent behind him to see him gently stroking his fingers over the mark. “It really is, isn’t it?”
“It is the short boy, indeed.” He smiled. “This has been one of the best days of my life. Now are you sure you’re ready to let all these pieces go?”
“Can we take another look around and see if you have the missing highboy?”
“What exactly is a highboy?” Doreen asked, when he straightened again.
He pointed to his chest. “It’s about this high and is a narrow, tall chest, usually for the man.”
“So this would be the woman’s dresser?” She pointed at the dresser that had been pulled from the back of the closet. A dresser Thaddeus had now claimed as he paced the top. At least he was leaving the chocolates alone.
He nodded. “Yes. And it makes sense that it would be with the vanity and the bed. But I don’t see any sign of the highboy. If you did have it, it would be a huge asset. And, if you are truly ready to sell these, I will arrange for shipment.”
“You’ll give me receipts for them all, right?” she asked hesitantly.
He chuckled. “Absolutely. There’ll be lots of paperwork to document this transaction.”
Feeling relieved, she grabbed a couple empty boxes from the spare room and emptied the drawers of the short boy dresser from the closet.
“You don’t even want to check what’s in there?” he asked from behind her.
“I will go through it all,” she said, “but obviously we don’t have time right now.” The whole top drawer looked to be scarves and accessories. The second drawer appeared to be stockings. She held up a pair.
“Those are silk,” the appraiser said, “a quite beautiful silk.”
She shook her head. “My grandmother had very expensive tastes apparently.” She picked up several more items, placed them all in a box, and, by the time she got to the bottom drawer, out came a huge accordion file full of paperwork. At that, she got excited. “Maybe this is it.”
Scott was at her side. “Maybe it’s what?”
“The folder with the provenance,” she said. “It’ll take a while to go through it all. It’s bursting at its seams.” She motioned to the dresser. “Can you take a look and make sure absolutely nothing else is in there?”
“Let’s take out every drawer,” he said, “because, yes, two secret drawers should be in this dresser as well.”
With all four drawers out, they could see several items had been caught in the back. With those collected, Scott pressed similar buttons as on the vanity, opening the two secret dresser drawers. One had a pair of cuff links inside. Thaddeus stretched his neck to see them. The other two animals were stretched out on the bed ignoring the two of them.
She looked at them in amazement.
“They look valuable,” he said. “I’m not an expert on gems though.”
She admired the red stones. “Garnets or rubies?”
“Definitely rubies,” he said with a smile.
She shook her head and put them inside the same little velvet envelope the locket was in.
In the other secret drawer was a picture. She flipped it over and back again. “Now this is Nan as a little girl.” She looked at it and smiled, holding it out to him. “On the back is Nan’s real name, Willa Montgomery. I am loving these little secret drawers,” she said.
Scott looked around the bedroom and asked, “Is there any chance you can sleep somewhere else tonight? We’ve made a hell of a mess in your room.”
“I can sleep in the spare bedroom,” she said.
He looked at the big closet. “I’m sorry, but do you mind if I dig around to make sure more isn’t there?”
“Be my guest,” she said. “I do know there are shelves in the back too. I don’t know why Nan would put the hanging clothes in front of the shelves.”
“I think, once you get this cleared out, you’ll find a space in between the two hanging portions to walk through. It’s an adaptation of a walk-in closet.”
“It’s chaos,” Doreen said, chuckling.
His grin flashed. “It is, at that.”
Just then she heard the postal worker open the mail slot in her front door. Mugs barked like a madman and tore out of the room. Goliath followed and on his heels, Thaddeus flew off the dresser and soared through the hallway to land out of sight. She sighed. “I have to go downstairs and salvage the mail. My dog has decided it’s something he should defend me from.”
“Oh, dear,” he said. “Go, go, go.”
She dashed downstairs to the front door, and there was Mugs with a letter in his mouth. As he went past Goliath, the cat swatted him on the face. Mugs growled and dropped the letter. Thaddeus raced between the two, snagged the letter, and ran into the kitchen.
Doreen raised both hands in frustration. “What’s gotten into you guys? Stop it.” She cornered Thaddeus, who was still dragging the envelope along as he hopped onto the kitchen table. She took it from his beak and held it up high. “Stop! It’s my letter, not yours.”
At the commotion the appraiser had come down to see if she was okay. He entered the kitchen and smiled. “It is truly amazing that you live in this wonderfully chaotic household.”
“Just not so good for the antiques,” she said with an eye roll.
She opened the letter-size envelope. “Interesting. There’s no return address, and there’s no stamp.”
“Somebody dropped it into your mail slot directly then,” he said.
She nodded and opened it, finding a single sheet of paper. “Dear Bone Lady. Uh-oh,” she whispered.
I see that you’re very interested in cold cases, and you have such great talent in solving them. Even ones from twenty-nine years ago. That’s why I’m contacting you. I wondered if you could help me with my personal cold case. My brother-in-law disappeared twenty-nine years ago in August and has never been heard from since. I know I don’t have any right to ask, but, if you’re interested in a mystery, please call me. I do have some evidence, a dagger of Johnny’s that I found buried at the spot where he was last seen. I found it some time ago when I went to plant a new bed of dahlias, but I don’t know if it’s enough to even start your investigation. I’m hopeful. Please call me.
After that plea was a phone number; the letter was signed by Penny Jordan.
Doreen stared at it in surprise. “Well, how about this? It looks like we have our next mystery to solve. Dagger in the dahlias!”
That sounded perfect.
Wednesday Late Morning …
Doreen walked Scott Rosten to her front door. As soon as she opened the door and Scott stepped out, Mugs took the opportunity to slip outside too. He headed for the grassy front lawn and started to roll. She smiled at his antics but turned her attention back to Scott.
“Don’t forget now,” he said. “I’ll bring in the crew early next week so they can pack this up properly. I’ll update you with a better time frame when I know.”
She nodded but couldn’t help thinking how it was a little too late to be concerned about packing up this furniture properly, when all of these pieces had been so well used for decades. “The sooner, the better. I’m afraid to use anything now,” she confessed.
He smiled at her. “Obviously we don’t want anything destroyed or broken in the meantime, but we also have to consider these have been gently used over the years. There will be some wear. Yes, that’ll depreciate the value, but they’re special pieces, and you’ve been very blessed to have them, so enjoy spending time with them while you can.” He stopped hesitated, his gaze searching the living room. “Did you have any luck finding the highboy?”
“Not yet, sorry,” she said regretfully. “But I’ll keep looking. I assume the packing will take a little time.”
“Yes, possibly, but these men are professionals.” He gave a shrug, almost philosophically, and a gentle laugh. “Just don’t damage them in the meantime, okay?”
She gave him a bright smile. “I’ll cover them in Bubble Wrap from now until then.”
“It’s the end of an era,” he said. “And the good thing is, as an era ends with you, it opens for somebody else, so don’t feel bad. The antique world will be absolutely delighted with your decision to part with these.”
As soon as he left her driveway, easily maneuvering through the press, which thankfully had reduced to just one camera crew, she called Mugs back into the house and closed the door. Her fingers instinctively went to her pocket to the strange letter she’d received. She’d been so busy that she hadn’t read it a second time, and it worried away in the back of her mind.
Her life had gone off the rails but in a good way. All yesterday afternoon and today, she had been smiling a happy smile. She’d survived an ugly attack from Cecily, found the little boy who had been missing for almost three decades. And Doreen had cleared the handyman’s name of all kinds of accusations that must have hurt everybody who had loved him. However, his wife had passed away before that mystery had been solved, but at least the rest of his family now knew that he hadn’t been trying to hurt the little boy nor had he attempted to start a whole new life with him. Instead they’d both drowned due to the record flooding that particular year. Definitely an unfortunate and sad event, but an accident nonetheless.
Yesterday, as Doreen had walked home, the Kelowna Detachment Police Commander had seen her on the streets. He’d pulled over, hopped out, and came to shake her hand. She’d been touched.
“We need people like you,” he’d said with an expansive smile.
She’d chuckled. “I’m not sure Mack agrees with you.”
The commander’s eyes had twinkled like Christmas bells in the sunlight; then his voice had deepened as he said, “Oh, I’m pretty sure Mack is happy with the scenario too.”
All in all, it had been a very special event and apparently had touched a nerve for someone else, if the letter in her pocket was anything to go by. No return address was on the envelope, no stamp on it, just a plea for help inside. Doreen wanted to help. She would absolutely love to help, but beginner’s luck wouldn’t hold her in good stead all the time.
She took out the letter once again to reread the details. They were sketchy, but that plea for help tore at her heart. And the woman said she’d found a dagger at the root of the dahlias in the same garden where she’d last seen her brother-in-law.
The problem was, the dagger had been out in the weather for so long before being found. Doreen highly doubted any forensic evidence remained on it at this point. Yet, as she already knew, DNA could last forever, and maybe some would be in the joints where the knife handle met the steel? But that didn’t mean she could convince anybody to test the dagger. Particularly Mack.
She had to admit she was getting cold-case fever. How sad was that? But the puzzles fascinated her.
Who would have known Kelowna was such a den of evildoings? It almost made her smile, but, of course, there was nothing funny about that. Still, she was closing cases rapidly. She loved what she was doing. But how long could her winning streak go?
“This has turned into a full-time hobby,” she muttered.
She folded the letter again and shoved it deep into her pocket. She wandered into the kitchen, where Goliath was stretched out on top of the kitchen table.
“Goliath, what are you doing?” she asked. “Get off the table. We’ve had this discussion before.”
He looked at her, flicked his tail, and slid, as if boneless, to the nearest chair at this table, where he curled up. But he made it so slow and so of his own prerogative that she knew it was a case of I’m doing this because I want to and not because you told me to.
“Who knew looking after a cat would be so much trouble?” she asked out loud. “Who knew looking after a cat …” She stopped, smiled, and added, “… would be such a heartwarming experience?” She leaned over and scratched Goliath behind his ears, loving the soft silkiness to his fur.
As soon as she pulled away her hand, he swatted her, his claws lightly digging in to pull her hand back down.
She chuckled, squatted in front of him, and said, “You’re totally okay with your new life, aren’t you, buddy?”
He didn’t have to answer. As he rolled onto his back, giving her his belly, and then stretched forward and backward, making him look even more monstrous in size, it was obvious he was a happy cat. If she’d done nothing else, she’d given him and Thaddeus a good life.
And speaking of Thaddeus, where was he? Because, wherever he was, trouble was sure to follow. There was just something about that bird.
She walked back into the living room. “Thaddeus? Where are you, buddy?”
But she got no answer.
She walked through the lower part of the house, then headed up the stairs.
“I know you were here earlier because, when the auction house guy was here, you were all over him. Now where are you? … Oh, that’s right. I last saw Thaddeus stealing off with the letter …”
When she saw no sign of him here in her bedroom, she went back down the stairs and, on a hunch, opened the front door. Maybe he followed Scott outside. “Thaddeus,” she yelled. “Thaddeus?”
And, sure enough, he hopped out from underneath the bushes and looked up at her.
“What are you doing out there?” she said, walking to him and bending down to scoop him into her arms. “You have to stay close.”
“Stay close. Stay close.”
“Yes, Thaddeus, stay close. Now repeat after me, Thaddeus, stay close. Stay close.”
He stared up at her and never said a word.
She groaned. “I don’t get it. You say what you want, when you want, but you won’t be trained to say what I want you to say.”
“Stay close. Stay close,” he muttered. He reached up as tall as he could and brushed his head against her cheek.
Her heart melted yet again. “Okay. You guys have so enriched my family,” she muttered, closing her eyes and cuddling him close. She walked back into the kitchen, carrying Thaddeus. “But honestly, it’s time for a cup of tea.”
“Thaddeus likes tea. Thaddeus likes tea.”
“I know,” Doreen said. Sadly she did know because he had a habit of drinking from her teacup. “Maybe I’ll make you a little bit in a bowl. How’s that?” Although she should probably look up on the internet if tea was good for him. And then she laughed. “Of course it’s not good for him. He already flies around the place like he’s loopy. It’ll probably just make him fly faster. Or crash into things more often.”
Then Thaddeus didn’t fly well to begin with.
She sat him on the kitchen table, only to have Goliath shoot her a dirty look. Right. Different rules for different animals. “Look, Goliath. You’re too big for the table. Thaddeus is just the right size.”
Just then Mugs reached up with his front paws, looked at Goliath on the chair, and she realized Mugs wasn’t allowed on the chairs.
“See?” she told Goliath, pointing at Mugs. “Everybody has their own rules,” she confirmed, hoping that would end the discussion.
Instead Thaddeus looked at her and said, “Thaddeus is hungry. Thaddeus is hungry.”
She groaned, picked up a bowl she kept with a lid on it, like a sugar bowl, pulled out a pinch of sesame seeds and put them down in front of the bird. He went to work.
Goliath jumped up, stuck his nose into the seeds, and sniffed, sending seeds flying, then backed away, shooting Doreen another look, followed by a plaintive meow.
She groaned, picked up the cat treat bag, and gave him two. “Remember how you’re on a diet?”
Mugs woofed at her feet.
With no other option but to make it fair, she picked up the dog treats and gave him some. “You’re on a diet too,” she admonished.
With all three of her animals happy with their midmorning snack, she plugged in the teakettle and waited for it to boil. In the meantime, she looked at the letter again. “You know what? To go down this path, Doreen, you’re likely to end up a failure. If the police haven’t solved it in all this time … But then that doesn’t really mean anything either, does it?” she said, immediately countering her argument. “Because they do their best. But they have a lot of active cases, and they’re short on man-hours. They don’t get to sit here with a cup of tea and meander through the cold-case files, one at a time.”
With that thought, she took a chair beside Goliath and opened her laptop. The name on the bottom of the letter was Penny Jordan. She typed in Penny Jordan in Kelowna, and several articles about a church’s Christmas bazaars came up. Penny was apparently some major volunteer. But the dates of those articles were from at least eight years ago. Doreen continued to read through articles that mentioned the Jordan family name, but they were few and far between.
Doreen groaned, closed the laptop, got up, and made her tea as she thought about that tidbit of information. “The only way to learn more is to contact her directly and ask. The letter did have a phone number. But nothing else.” Hmm. “So are we doing this?” she asked her trio.
They all stared back at her.
Then Thaddeus bobbed his head; Mugs, probably because of Thaddeus’s head-bobbing, woofed. Goliath swung a paw and smacked Mugs on the head.
She’d take all that as a joint yes.
“Okay, good enough,” she said. “We’ll give Penny a call and see what it’s all about. But no guarantees. Just because we’ve had a run of good luck doesn’t mean this case will end the same way,” she warned.
Wednesday Noon …
“Hi. This is Doreen,” she started the phone conversation, a notepad and pen in front of her. The animals relaxed, surrounding her. “I’m looking for Penny Jordan.”
“This is Penny,” a woman said. “Doreen? Doreen. Oh, my goodness. You’re the bone lady.”
“Well, that’s what some people call me,” she said. “I certainly appear to have made the reputation for myself since I arrived.”
“Everybody also knows you as Nan’s granddaughter,” Penny said with a chuckle. “Not sure what you prefer.”
“How about just Doreen?” Doreen said with a smile. “Although my grandmother is definitely a sweetheart and has a reputation all her own.”
“That she does,” Penny said smoothly. “You got my letter then?”
“Yes. Yes, I did. But you didn’t give me a lot of information. So your brother-in-law went missing?”
“Yes, my husband’s younger brother. He was twenty-one at the time. The thing is, the police thought he chose to leave without telling us. Heading west, doing what all young men do. I will admit, you know, that he had some bad friends who were into drugs, but I think it involved the lighter stuff, like marijuana,” Penny said anxiously. “I don’t want you to get the idea Johnny was some cokehead and became homeless.”
“Which happens,” Doreen said quietly.
“I know,” Penny said. “And honestly, for years, my husband drove around this and neighboring towns, looking to see if Johnny was just sitting on the streets, homeless, but we never heard any more from him.”
“Is your husband okay with you contacting me?”
There was silence over the phone, and then Penny said sadly, “He died of a heart attack last year, and his dying wish was that I find answers before I passed away too. I keep his urn on the mantel as a reminder of his last wish.”
“I’m sorry,” Doreen said, wincing. “How old did you say his brother was when he went missing?”
“Twenty-one,” she repeated. “We have accepted the fact he’s probably dead because he and his brother were very, very close, and no way he wouldn’t have called him all this time. So I have absolutely no doubt something bad happened to him. But it would be nice to have a body that I could bury and to have a memorial for my husband’s sake. It mattered to him.”
Doreen nodded, even though Penny couldn’t see her doing that. “Your brother-in-law’s name was Johnny?”
“Yes. There were just the two brothers, Johnny and George Jordan,” she said. “Johnny went missing twenty-nine years ago, about the same time frame you’ve been dealing with. That’s why I contacted you.”
“Interesting,” Doreen said, considering the time lines of the other cold cases she had helped solve. “Are you thinking this had anything to do with the other missing person cases from back then?”
“No, no, no, no,” Penny said. “I don’t think so at all. I think Johnny got in with a bad crowd, and a lot of those people have since passed. So it’s a really onerous job I’ve asked you to look into, but, for my husband’s sake and for the sake of closure, it would be lovely to get to the bottom of this.”
“And what’s this about a dagger?” Doreen laid down her pen and picked up her tea, taking a sip.
Penny sighed. “The last time we saw Johnny, he was sitting on an alcove bench in the backyard. I was looking out the window, talking to my husband, and we were laughing and smiling at Johnny. He had a beer in his hand and a big grin. He lifted it up, as in a cheer, took a big swig. I went to the kitchen to clean it up a bit before I made dinner. My husband went back to the home office. We never saw Johnny again. We searched. The police came. They searched. About ten years later we decided to move that bench because, every time we saw it, it caused us pain. So we moved it to a far corner of the yard. I decided to plant dahlias where the bench had been, to change the atmosphere of the spot.”
“Right,” Doreen said. “Well, dahlias are beautiful, and they would certainly give you a lovely memorial for him.”
“Exactly,” Penny said. “We brought up this dagger when we dug up that area. The ground there wasn’t very good, having been under the bench the whole time. We added soil, enriched slightly with some of the topsoil we brought in to top-dress the front yard.”
“Okay, so the dagger wasn’t in the dahlia tubers,” Doreen said, switching her cell phone from one ear to the other. “It was buried in the dahlia bed or what became a dahlia bed afterward. Is that correct?”
“Yes, and, up until then, it was nothing but an empty space under the bench because obviously nothing would grow there.”
“No, it’s hard to grow anything without sunshine. I bet you had plenty of moss though.”
“Oh, yes.” Penny laughed. “The moss really liked that corner.”
“So what did you do with the dagger?”
“I called the police and told them. They were sympathetic but said, chances were, nothing would come of it. But I couldn’t let it go. I bagged up the dagger and took it to them. I asked them if they could test it, and they said the budget was so tight that they were only testing items with a viable chance for finding DNA. Of course, a knife found many years after my brother-in-law went missing, with no blood evidence to say it was from the scene of the crime, made no sense to them.”
“Ah,” Doreen said. “That is the exact issue right there. It made no sense because absolutely no forensic evidence was found at the spot where he went missing. So you haven’t had the knife tested, correct?”
“No, and I have it still, sitting here.”
Doreen added that tidbit to her notepad. “Had you ever seen that dagger before?”
“That’s one of the funny things. It’s Johnny’s,” Penny said. “That’s another reason the police weren’t too bothered because I told them how Johnny used to sit on that bench and have a beer, and he would flip it back and forth between his hands, like a lot of young men did back then. It was just this cool movement they were trying to do, and, at times, he would stab it into the ground, almost like he was playing darts, but with imaginary targets on the lawn.”
“So the police assumed Johnny had stabbed it into the ground beside him one time when he was having a couple beers and forgot about it. Then, over time, it just worked itself into the ground. Or somebody unknowingly stepped on it, didn’t recognize it, leaves piled in, the mulch, etc.” She made another notation regarding this.
“It’s of zero help, but, at the same time, it’s a connection I can’t mentally let go of.”
“I don’t mind taking a look at the dagger, unless you have photos of it.”
“If you would take the dagger, I would be very happy,” Penny said. “I know it probably has absolutely nothing to do with the case, but, every time I see it, it sends chills down my back.”
“Okay, will do,” Doreen said. “Where do you live?”
“I’m about a mile away from you. Up the creek.”
“That’s not a lot of help though,” Doreen said with a laugh. “I haven’t had a chance to explore much around town.”
“Look. I’m planning to go shopping later,” Penny said. “Do you want me to stop by and drop it off?”
“That would lovely,” Doreen said. “If you wouldn’t mind. And drop off any information you have—any police reports you might have a copy of, any interviews, anybody who was a witness. Just anything you have would be helpful.”
“I have a folder of information we’ve collected over the years, but it’s mighty thin.”
“That’s fine,” Doreen said. “It’ll help me get my mind wrapped around what happened.”
“I’ll make a copy for myself and bring you the originals. How about in a couple hours or so, about three o’clock? Is that okay?”
Doreen checked her watch. “About three o’clock then. That’s fine.” She hung up the phone and stared at the animals, though not really seeing them. Her mind was locked on a twenty-one-year-old, strong, young, healthy male going missing from one moment to the next.
“How awful, Mugs. You see a family member sitting on a bench outside in your backyard, and then you never see him again.”
She was glad the young man, Johnny, had lifted his beer in a half salute of “Hey, it’s a good moment” because at least it was a good memory of the last time Penny and her husband had communicated with Johnny. So many people had a fight before going off to work and getting killed in a car accident. The survivor’s last memory for the loved one was of the fight. Not the way anybody wanted to be remembered.
Pondering, she went around the house, dusting off the furniture Scott would be collecting shortly. She was so afraid something would happen to these pieces. She’d joked about protecting it all with Bubble Wrap, but, then again, she was half serious. She just needed nothing to happen to these pricey antiques over the next few days.
She went upstairs to her bedroom, reminded of the ton of clothing she still had to go through. Plus that her bed would be moved next week. She hadn’t asked Scott about the mattress. Maybe the mattress could stay, and she could sleep on it on the floor. That would be an easy solution as to where she would sleep tonight. Maybe not as regal an answer to her dilemma but definitely a workable one.
She had Scott’s contact information and texted him as to the mattresses. His response came back quickly. As they were newer mattresses, they were hers. So that was good, but there wasn’t much room to put the mattresses on the floor beside the big four-poster bed frame. There could be though, if she managed to clean out that corner. If she rearranged some things in here and then moved a lot of stuff into the spare bedroom, she could make it work. Or she could move into the spare bedroom until the bed was gone; then she could decide what to do with the mattress and box spring.
On that note, she walked into the spare room for a look. Mugs followed walking around the room, sniffing the old floor. The room had just a single bed but an old one that squeaked like crazy, even more noisily than the big bed in the master bedroom. She knew trying to sleep on this spare room bed would drive her nuts. Every time one of the animals rolled or shifted she’d wake up too. So what was the answer? She had to clear a spot on the floor in her bedroom. Before bedtime tonight.
She stepped back into her bedroom. Doreen had a lot of Nan’s clothing due at Wendy’s shop. With that thought in mind, Doreen bagged up the stacks designated for Wendy’s consignment store and took them downstairs to the entry hallway. The next time Doreen went to town, she could drop them off and see what Wendy would like to keep.
Doreen had decided to keep an awful lot of Nan’s clothing. She picked up an armful of those, still on their hangers, and walked them into the spare room, hanging them in that closet. At least it helped her to separate the old from the new, the keep from the don’t keep, what she’d sorted from what she hadn’t.
It took several trips to hang up all the clothes to keep. But it felt like a bit of space had opened up in her bedroom. Considering the bed frame wouldn’t be taken for a few days, she figured there was really no point in taking the mattresses off right now. Yet part of her said she should tear it all apart and inspect the pieces before she lost the opportunity. What if something else had been hidden in the bed? Besides, she also needed to change the bedding.
Except … all the animals had given up on her, passing out on the bedding. And yes, they’d twisted and woven into weird contortions around the mess of stuff they’d placed on the bed earlier. Gently rousing them one at a time, she stripped off the duvet, tossed it to the side, and then went after the sheets. A big thick mattress cover was under the sheets as well. She took that off to be washed too, something she hadn’t done since she had moved in. And she could see that the mattress, although older, was still in excellent shape. It had a big cushion top with no rips or stains or tears. All of which was good.
She went to the other side of the bed, lifted up the mattress awkwardly. She stood on the box spring so she could scoot the mattress completely off the box spring, ensuring nothing was underneath it.
Then she lifted the box spring from the big wooden bed frame and checked underneath it. Satisfied no envelopes were taped underneath and no hauls of cash were otherwise stuffed under the bed, she stepped inside the bed frame and slid the box spring over the side of the bed onto the floor. Now she was really making a mess.
It was her first chance to take a look at the four-poster bed without the mattresses. It was amazing. Absolutely amazing. The box spring was at an awkward angle, leaning against one of the four-poster corners, teetering, but it gave her a chance to check with her hands under the bed frame itself, all around the sides, though she couldn’t see the back of the headboard.
She’d torn everything apart, so she might as well keep going. And she still had that accordion file to go through. She winced. Scott had specifically asked her to do that, and she’d promised she’d get to it. And here she was, off in a whole different direction.
She’d go through that paperwork as soon as she could because it might make a huge difference in terms of the value of the pieces. She slid her hands under and around the bed frame, checking, but absolutely nothing was here. The newel posts didn’t even come off the four posts.
She slid the whole bed toward her enough so she could see nothing was behind the headboard either. “Good enough,” she said. She pushed the four-poster toward the door, and the box spring collapsed onto the floor. She looked at it, frowned, and then shrugged. “Well, you were ending up there anyway,” she said. “So, what the hell. Might as well stay there.”
She quickly rearranged this corner of the room and, with a little effort, moved the big heavy mattress and box spring into place beside the big bed frame.
Mugs immediately jumped inside the slats of the big bed and barked, sniffing, his nose going steadily underneath. When he wouldn’t stop, Doreen looked at him. “Seriously, Mugs?”
He barked again, his nose touching the center slat. She hadn’t checked under all the slats, so she reached down to do so now. As she got to the slat where Mugs was, she could feel something taped to the underside. Excited, she didn’t want to just rip it off—she didn’t dare rip up whatever was here. Someone had to have a reason for doing this, but how could she lift up the massive bed frame?
When her doorbell rang, she groaned and said, “Well, this will have to wait a moment, Mugs.”
Only Mugs was already downstairs barking himself hoarse.
Wednesday Afternoon …
Doreen ran down the stairs lightly, making her way past all the bags of clothing. She pulled open the door to see a lovely older woman standing outside, nervously holding a big brown 9”x12” envelope in her hand. Mugs dashed out and circled around their visitor. At least he was quiet now.
The woman looked up at her and smiled. “It is you! You’ve been all over the media.” She smiled down at Mugs. “And of course, your trio of animals.”
At that Mugs barked once as if to say, ‘of course.’
Doreen just rolled her eyes. “And you must be Penny. Come on inside. Let’s see what you’ve got.” As the woman stepped in, Doreen said, “Sorry. Please excuse the mess. I’m sorting through all of Nan’s stuff and getting a lot of this cleaned out.”
“I wouldn’t doubt it,” Penny said. “Nan has always been a collector of antiques. My husband was too.”
That stopped Doreen right in the middle of the living room. “Really?”
Penny nodded. “He and Nan had all kinds of discussions. He loved this set, but Nan would never sell it. She said it was her retirement fund.”
“And now that she’s retired,” Doreen said, “she doesn’t need it.”
“That’s the best thing ever,” Penny said with a smile, making a Vanna White arm sweep to the room. “Think about it. Nan doesn’t need the money she set aside. I think that’s a success in itself.”
Doreen laughed. “May I see your file?”
“Oh. I’m sorry.” Penny handed over the envelope. “The knife is in there too. And I did keep a digital copy of everything. I should have done that a long time ago. Then I could have just emailed them to you.”
“If you could do that too, that would be great,” Doreen said, “because I might do more searching that way.”
“Sure. It’s already digital anyway. Need your email address,” she said, “and I can send it to you when I get home.”
Doreen gave her the email address. “Now you understand that … I can’t guarantee this will go anywhere, right?”
“I know,” Penny said, inputting Doreen’s contact info into her phone. “I feel almost guilty asking you. It’s just the police don’t have anything to go on. Nobody I’ve talked to over the years has any idea what happened to Johnny. It’s so very frustrating. I guess I’m hoping another pair of eyes will turn up something different.” She grinned at Doreen. “You do appear to have a very different pair of eyes.”
Doreen smiled. “Apparently I have a different perspective that’s shaking things up a little. You’re still in the same house you lived in when Johnny went missing?”
Penny nodded. “Yes, but not for much longer. I guess that’s another reason why I’m feeling the time pressure to solve this. I’m listing the house for sale soon and hoping to move into a condo closer to my older daughter’s as soon as I get my house sold.”
“So that could be within two weeks, or it could be two months,” Doreen said.
“Or two years. Depending on the market. But it’s a lovely family home.”
“Okay,” Doreen said. “Would you mind if I come and take a look myself, to see the backyard and to get a feel for the location he disappeared from?”
“Sure,” Penny said. “I’ll give you my address when I send you the digital file.”
“I’m sorry,” Doreen said. “Would you like to sit down?”
“No, but thank you anyway. I don’t want to bother you any more than I have, and I should be going. Whenever you’re out that way, just pop on by. The thing to remember is, I don’t know where the crime scene is, if there was one—whether he went for a walk or met his buddies over the back fence because a park abuts our property there or where he might have gone from our home.”
“The park is behind your property?”
“Yes, and, to make matters worse, he used that gate all the time. I think he came and went most of the time that way.”
“So, if somebody called to him from the park or sent him a text, he would have gone to meet him, using that gate, correct?”
“Except for the fact we couldn’t afford to buy a cell phone back then, and texting didn’t exist,” Penny said with a smile.
“Right, of course not,” Doreen said with a shake of her head. “But that doesn’t mean he didn’t have somebody who stuck his head over the gate and called out to him.”
“We saw his friends do that often. At one point we had to stop him from buying drugs that way.”
At that, Doreen’s eyebrows shot up.
Penny nodded. “But what can you do? He had just George in his life. Their parents had died a couple years earlier. Johnny had been a teenager then, and George had given him a home, helping him to grow up. But Johnny was fighting that. He had a job at the hardware store. He had a girlfriend, but that relationship wasn’t stable. As a matter of fact, the girlfriend said, at that time, they hadn’t had anything to do with each other for a couple months before he went missing. She didn’t mention any reason behind their breakup. Just that she’d found somebody else soon afterward.”
“Is her name and other pertinent personal information in the file?”
Penny frowned. “I think so. Her name was Susan Robinson. She died of breast cancer about a year ago.”
“Oh, wow,” Doreen said. “So is everybody from his circle no longer around?”
“Yes. Johnny’s two buddies and his girlfriend. They were together all the time. They didn’t really hang out with any others to the same extent. At least not that I knew of. And, yes, they are all dead now. All you have are the witness statements in most cases. And I don’t have copies of all those.” She hesitated, then looked sideways at Doreen. “I know this is very inappropriate and pushy,” she said, “but I was hoping you would have connections with Mack, and maybe you could get the other information I don’t have.”
“I’m not sure he can do that,” Doreen said. Just then Mugs slumped to the floor half on and half off her foot. Squatting to scratch Mugs behind the ear. “I don’t know what their rules and regulations are, but I can ask him.”
“Right. I’m sure all kinds of red tape stop him from giving you too much information,” Penny said with a sigh. “And how frustrating is that? All I want to know is what happened to Johnny.”
“You’ve had no contact since, and he was a healthy young man?”
Penny nodded. “He was healthy. He was footloose and fancy-free. He was a young man, but he didn’t have a whole lot of purpose. He didn’t really know what he wanted to do. He didn’t like working at the hardware store. He had visions of a much bigger, more grandiose lifestyle, but honestly he hadn’t reached the point where he wanted to put in the work to make it happen.”
“Oh. So a typical young man,” Doreen said with a smirk.
“Exactly,” Penny agreed. “George got really frustrated with him, and that was hard because I always heard about it. But, at the same time, I couldn’t do or say anything to make it any better.”
“No. Young men have to be young men, and they grow up in their own time frame,” Doreen said.
“Do you have any children?” Penny asked.
“No,” Doreen said. “Not yet. At my age, probably not likely to happen.”
“We have two daughters,” Penny said. “And I have to admit that it was much easier to have daughters than to always look at a son and wonder if the same thing would happen to him. We kept a very close eye on the girls growing up, but I think they understood just how devastating losing their uncle had been for us. Yet, of course, young people know it all and have all the answers.” Penny laughed a little. “Only as they get older do they realize they never had any wisdom to begin with.” She gave a wry smile.
Doreen nodded. “Okay, I’ll go through this. Please don’t have any expectations that I will find anything.”
“No,” Penny said. “Of course not.” She reached out a hand and squeezed Doreen’s. “I’m just happy to know somebody will look into it and that Johnny won’t be forgotten forever.”
“I can understand that,” Doreen said slowly. “I think that’s one of the reasons why I pursue these cases. Because families are waiting for answers. People need closure. Some folks’ whole lives are lost in worrying and wondering what happened. I can’t imagine anything worse.”
Mugs got up and walked over to sniff Penny’s leg. He rubbed his head against her calf.
She bent to pet him. “Well, he’s a new addition.”
“He is, indeed,” Doreen said. “Mugs came with me. Goliath is still here. So is Thaddeus.”
Penny nodded, as if the names didn’t mean anything to her, and it occurred to Doreen that she didn’t know how long Nan had had Thaddeus and Goliath, a name Doreen had given the cat. So there was a good chance Penny hadn’t met either of them.
Penny turned and walked back to the front door, smiling at the bags of clothing. “You have a lot of stuff to go to Goodwill.”
“I do,” Doreen said. “Honestly I’ll probably take a bunch of this to the consignment store. Nan had some very good-quality clothing.”
“Oh, that’s a lovely idea,” Penny said. “I shop there quite a bit. Wendy has a lovely store.”
Interestingly she didn’t look ashamed or in any way put out by telling somebody she shopped at a secondhand store. “I’ll have to check it out,” Doreen said. “I dropped off some clothes already, but I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had a chance to look for anything for myself.”
“Wendy has a great selection,” Penny said. “Check it out while you’re there.” With a wave of her hand, she walked onto the front porch and down the steps.
Once again Doreen stood on the front porch, waiting for somebody to drive away. She didn’t know why she needed to make sure people left. It probably had to do with the fact she was still hoarding all these expensive antiques in the house.
As soon as Penny had driven down the cul-de-sac, Doreen stepped back inside, brining Mugs with her, set the alarm again because now it was almost four o’clock, and headed into the kitchen. “Now to check the back alarm, then go upstairs to check that bed out,” she said.
Her phone rang then. She groaned as she looked down at Mack’s identification. “How do you always know when I’m getting ready to get into something?”
“What are you up to?” he asked as soon as she answered.
She rolled her eyes. “I’m trying to figure out what is taped underneath the bed frame in my bedroom,” she said. “The packers will come early next week. Hopefully on Monday. I need to know about anything hidden in the furniture before they take it. And we found something, but I can’t lift the massive bed frame.”
“With your mind-set,” he said, “I can certainly understand that. What’s underneath it?”
“I don’t know, that’s what I’m trying to figure out. I’ve moved the box spring and the mattress to the floor, because the movers are not taking those. But the bed frame itself is very heavy. Mugs won’t leave it alone. He kept barking at one of the slats, so I checked, and, sure enough, something is taped under it.”
“Right. That’s why I’m trying to figure it out. For all I know, it’s nothing. But the bed is heavy. How do I lift it and check out the slat?” She paused. “Are you on your way home?”
“Yeah. I’m leaving the office in five. Why?”
“Well, you could swing by,” she said in a cheerful voice, adding, “and you could lift the bed, and I could look underneath.”
She could almost see him give a mental shrug.
“Yeah, I can. I’ll be there soon.” And he hung up.
“Now that is perfect,” she said to Mugs.
He just stared at her. She chuckled and headed the way back to her bedroom.
As soon as Mugs returned to the bedroom, he’d hopped inside the slats, which she found amazing because he was pretty rotund. He’d parked right where that piece of paper, or whatever it may be, was. It felt more like plastic than paper. She didn’t know what that meant.
She continued to move stuff out of the master bedroom into the spare bedroom closet. She rearranged some of the furniture in her room so the movers could easily dismantle the bed when they arrived. Then she put new bedding on the mattress. By the time she’d fluffed up the pillows and put them on her makeshift bed, it looked mostly normal on the floor. Then she heard Mack drive up.
Mugs barked and turned around with his belly flat on the floor. He crawled underneath the edge of the bed frame and headed down the stairs. He knew it was Mack. How could he not?
She followed him to shut off the alarm at the front door and got it just in time.
Wednesday Late Afternoon …
Mack eyed her as she opened the door. “Why are you so flustered?” He bent to pet Mugs and Goliath at his feet.
“I had the alarms on,” she said. “I had to run downstairs and shut it off before you opened the door.”
His eyebrows shot up. “Are you keeping them on, even when you’re home?” He seemed a bit worried.
“I will until the antiques are picked up,” she said. “I can’t take the chance of something happening to those pieces.”
He nodded. “I guess I can understand that.”
She led the way back up to the bedrooms, the animals dashing ahead of them.
When he stepped into the master bedroom, he whistled. “Wow. That bed is even bigger than I remembered it.”
“Right? I moved the mattresses to the floor and now it looks even more crowded. Look at the size of that bed frame.”
“It’s huge.” He shook his head. “I’m not even sure how they’ll take it apart.”
“Well, someone got it in here somehow,” she said. “Although I may have to ask Nan about that.”
“I’d say so. She might have a trick or two,” he said. “What is it you want lifted?”
She pointed to the bed. Just then Mugs wiggled underneath the frame again to the same slat, sat, and growled. Goliath hopped on top and swatted him. Thaddeus was on top of the bedpost staring down at them.
Doreen pointed. “Something is underneath the bed right there by Mugs.”
Mack groaned, reached down with one hand, then bent his knees, lifting the bed frame.
Doreen dove underneath beside Mugs who shoved his snout right at her. She checked all the other slats first. “Nothing else is here, but, whatever this is, I don’t know if I’ll get it off.”
He lifted the frame a bit higher. “Why don’t you come out and grab those two chairs or the boxes you’ve got here, and we’ll put the edge of this frame on them. The ceiling and the four posters to this bed won’t allow me to lift this any higher.”
Following his instructions, she propped up the frame on the boxes she was collecting for Goodwill and the consignment shop.
He tested the weight. “It’s not supremely safe, but it’ll be fine for a few minutes.” Then he crouched under the bed and took a look. “It looks like a letter’s been taped to the slat inside some plastic. Likely to protect the paper over the years.”
He pulled out a pocketknife from his pants pocket and very carefully slid it in the top layer of plastic, just enough so he could pull out the letter. Once it was free, he handed it to her. At that point Mugs laid down under the propped up bed, Goliath had dug his claws into wood and had slid until he was stretched out fully.
She opened it and gasped. “It’s from my great-great-grandmother. It’s a letter to Nan’s mother. I think. Nan was named after her mom, so they both share the name Willa. Another thing I’ll have to clarify with Nan.”
“My dearest granddaughter Willa,” Doreen read aloud. “I’m hoping you’ll have my passion for antiques. I’m not sure why so many have absolutely no love of things old and well-loved. This entire set is for you. I know what it’s worth, and so do you. I also know it doesn’t matter to you. Enjoy it in the spirit it was intended and know that it’s listed in my will. But, should there ever be any contention, keep this letter with the bed so all will know it’s yours. With all my love and the hope that you have an absolutely wonderful and fulfilling life, Nan.”
Tears were in Doreen’s eyes when she stopped reading. She held her hand over her mouth and looked up at Mack.
“So does that mean you don’t want to sell it now?” he asked drily.
She gave a shake of her head. “No, that’s not what I mean. Obviously I’m not in a position to argue about the need for the sale, and the furniture is really not my style. But to think a piece of my own personal history is here, that’s so important.”
He pointed to the date. “And look at that.”
“Wow, 1909,” she read. “Nan wasn’t even alive then,” she said.
He shrugged. “Makes sense to me.”
“Wow,” she repeated. “And she passed it on to my Nan. Just wow.” She shook her head. “I want photos of this letter.”
“Take photographs, and, if you can scan it, then do that too.”
Doreen went downstairs to her printer and scanned the letter, then took a photograph of it with her phone too. She walked back upstairs smiling.
“This is really great. It’s also huge for proving provenance,” Mack said.
“Yes,” Doreen said with a smile. “Nan is seventy-five-ish, and her mother would have been at least twenty or thirty years older.”
“I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to find the paperwork for any of this, but this gives you a specific date to go by.” Mack turned to look at the bed frame. “Are you ready for me to put the letter back in?”
He carefully reinserted it into the plastic sleeve, where it had been kept safe all these years. “Now you can tell your auction house guy that you have that letter. Maybe send him a copy by email.”
She nodded and immediately sent a text. Then, through her email function on her phone, she attached a copy of the letter and sent it off. She sniffled back her tears. “I can’t wait to show this to Nan.”
“Sounds like Nan has always been used as the name for the grandmothers in your family, hasn’t it?”
With his help, she removed the boxes tilting up the bed frame and helped him lower the massive bed frame to the floor. She moved the boxes back to where they had been.
Mack looked at her. “What are in all those boxes?”
She motioned toward the closet, both of its doors open, revealing the mess inside. “I’m slowly sorting through all of Nan’s clothes. The boxed-up stuff here will go to Goodwill. I have all the bags of clothing downstairs that will go to the consignment store. Items I’m keeping currently are in the spare bedroom closet.”
He nodded. “That sounds like a good system with all the sorting to do here. And I’m glad to hear you’re keeping some of Nan’s clothing too. You might as well wear them, since it’s expensive to replace it all.” He motioned at the overstuffed closet. “Still a ton is in this closet alone.”
“Speaking of which,” she said, suddenly remembering what else she’d caught sight of in the back of the closet. “An old bookshelf is in the closet. It’s jammed in the back. Who knew a closet could be this deep?”
He looked at her in surprise.
She pushed all the hangers to one side and pointed it out to him.
He shook his head. “Do you want me to pull that out for you?”
She looked at him in delight. “Absolutely I do.”
“You should send pictures to your appraiser. Didn’t you show him this piece?”
“No, it’s not one of the pieces he was looking for.” She removed more hanging clothes to give him access. Then stepped in and quickly dumped the contents of the shelf onto the floor under the hangers. A temporary solution at best. “I will send Scott photos though. And he can check it out when he returns to pack up this stuff.”
It took a bit of maneuvering, but finally Mack dragged the bookshelf along the carpeted floor out to where Doreen could access to it. It didn’t resemble the other pieces in any way. It was also scratched and beaten-up some.
“Can you imagine,” she said, “that it’s been in there for probably fifty years?”
“Probably since Nan moved in.” He nodded. “And with the passage of time and too many possessions, it got buried in the back. Still, it’s quite useable, lots of life in it yet.”
“It’s pretty amazing,” she said. “Nan seems to think nothing of leaving all this stuff behind.”
“I think she left it behind for a very specific reason, and she was more than happy to share this with you,” he said.
She smiled. “Maybe. I just hadn’t expected it.”
“No,” he said, “but it’s all good. I think you’re doing the right thing.”
She appreciated that. “I have to admit that it does wake me up in the night. I feel like I’m letting my family down.”
“Not at all,” he said. “I think the worst thing you can do is hang on to things out of guilt or because you think it’s the right thing to do. I think it’s time for you to do what’s right for you.”
She beamed at him. “You know what? Honestly it’s been a pretty good week so far.”
“No kidding,” he said. “Yesterday certainly made it a great week. That was a very good thing you did.”
“But it wasn’t necessarily what I did.” She hated to feel guilty about it. “I mean, really anybody could have sorted that out.”
“The difference is,” he said, “at the time, we didn’t have most of the technology we do now. And that cold case hadn’t been reopened because nothing new had been added in the way of facts or evidence or witness statements. We would have eventually reviewed it before boxing it up and putting it aside, but that’s just the facts of life. You came at it from a very different angle, and you solved it.”
“It was the license plate,” she said.
He nodded. “That makes sense. And that’s when we got that needed pop on the case. However, we didn’t have time to take another look because you’d solved the case already.”
She beamed at him. “Praise from you is high praise, indeed.”
“Have you made another omelet yet?”
She shook her head. “I haven’t had time,” she confessed. “And I’m scared to. I figured that was beginner’s luck.”
He chuckled. “I haven’t had dinner. If you haven’t touched the ingredients, there’s probably enough for another one. I suggest you try again, and we’ll split it again.”
She looked at him in surprise, then the nearby clock. It really was dinnertime. “I haven’t touched anything. Do you think it’s all still good?” She looked at him anxiously. “That’s another thing I don’t know anything about. How long does food keep?”
“Four to five days for sure,” he said. “Come on. Let’s take a look.”
Downstairs again, they walked into the kitchen, and Mack opened the fridge. He pulled out the bacon first. “See here? A Best Before Date is printed on the packaging, and that’s still another four days away. And the spinach, it’s okay. It’s wilting a little, but it’d make a good spinach omelet. And the eggs …” He brought out the carton, checking the Best Before Date on the end of it, nodding, putting everything on the counter. Then he leaned against the counter and crossed his arms over his chest. “Go for it.”
She looked at him nervously. “I haven’t prepped.”
“No prep required. No videos to watch. Just go by memory.”
She wrinkled her nose at him as she stepped forward. “Are you trying to put me on the spot?”
“No,” he said. “I’m trying to get food. It’s been a very long day.”
She laughed and got started. Since he had stopped by to lift her bed frame—and ended up moving that bookshelf as well—it was the least she could do.
Wednesday Dinnertime …
As they sat down to eat—and, boy, was she proud of the fact that her second attempt was damn near as perfect as the first—Mack looked at the big business-size envelope beside their plates.
“Johnny Jordan?” He frowned. “Why does that name sound familiar?”
Shoot. “I don’t know,” she mumbled. “Do you know that name?”
He glanced at her sideways as he took a bite of the omelet. “First, the omelet is divine. You did a great job.”
She beamed at him. “It’s not as hard as I thought.”
“Nothing is,” he said. “You just have to learn how.”
She hoped so. But she didn’t have the confidence yet to make that discernment.
Then he said, “And, second, you’re up to something.”
She sat back with a sigh. “How do you know?”
He snickered. “Because you get this weird little glare in your eyes and a wrinkle in your forehead as you bring your brows together. And it’s almost always directed at me, as if to say, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
She glared at him but could feel the wrinkles forming between her eyebrows. She reached up and eased them back.
His grin just widened.
She glared at him once more. “I’m not up to anything.”
“Well, you just admitted you were,” he said.
“Not really,” she said. “But I do have an odd request.” She patted her pocket and pulled out the letter and handed it to him.
As he popped another bite into his mouth, he picked it up and read it. His eyebrows rose toward his hairline. “Wow. Now they’re bypassing the police and coming straight to you?” He shook his head. “What the hell will you do with this? Do you realize how dangerous this could be for you?” He looked at the letter again, then at the envelope. “Did she mail you that too?”
She groaned and sat back. “No, I didn’t know what to do,” she said, “so I called her. The end result is, she was here this afternoon and dropped off that envelope. I did warn her that I could probably tell her nothing because not only was it a long time ago but no crime scene was found. And no further word came from the young man in all these years. … For all we know, it was possible he drowned, but he went missing after the heavy flooding that year. So it was doubtful he ended up in the lake.” She let Mack ponder that for a moment, then added, “The dagger Penny was concerned about is in the bigger envelope she left with me earlier today.” She tapped the big business envelope on the kitchen table.
“Yeah, for a while there,” he said, “they were doing these ‘stabbing it into the ground as hard as they could’ kinds of things. Like darts, but downward with knives. It was a cool move but wasn’t very good for the blades.” He looked at the envelope. “You haven’t opened it yet?”
She shook her head. “Mugs had just found whatever was under the bed when she arrived. I had to run downstairs, and, after she left, I set the alarm and came back upstairs. Then you came.”
“You know what? For somebody who has nothing going on,” he said, slightly sarcastically, “you’re sure busy.”
She nodded. “Almost too busy,” she admitted. “But that’s all right because it’s pretty hard to not love life right now. The trick is, is there any way to figure out what happened to this poor Johnny guy?”
“I didn’t know the family well. I can’t recall much about the cold case. I remember opening it at some point, but there was nothing new to move forward with.”
“No,” she said, “and I’m not sure there is now either. It’s a hard case. I’m also not sure what clues might be found in the witness statements either. So many witnesses have died.” She hesitated. “I can’t read the statements in the police file, can I?”
He shook his head.
She nodded. “That’s what I expected. His girlfriend from around that time died of breast cancer last year. And his brother is gone now too.”
“That is sad because then his brother never got closure, and even the girlfriend must have always wondered right up to the end.”
“She certainly didn’t leave any confession saying she’d murdered him,” Doreen said drily.
“To date, we have no reason or no evidence to think Johnny was murdered,” Mack said. “That was an excellent omelet.” He slid the last bite in his mouth, put down his fork, and pushed back his plate. “The young man could have just gotten up and walked away.”
“I get that,” Doreen said. “But what would make a young man do that? What makes somebody, who is close to his brother—and we only have his brother’s wife’s word on that—but supposedly close to his brother and his sister-in-law, yet who gets up and walks away forever?”
“I think at the time they leave, they plan on returning, riding high on some future big successful wave. When that doesn’t happen, they don’t want the family to know they are a failure. A lot of people, after too much time has gone by, don’t know what to say anymore, so they never say anything. Meaning they don’t return either.”
“That’s very sad,” Doreen said. “Somebody has to know what happened to Johnny.”
“There’s always another option,” he said quietly. “You have to consider that, even though we have much higher statistics today, still an awful lot of suicides of young men happened back then.”
“Wouldn’t his body have shown up though?”
Mack frowned. Thinking about that, he pushed back his chair and looked at her. “Do you mind if I put on a pot of coffee?”
“Please,” she said. She collected the dishes and walked to the sink. “I mean, surely if he’d shot himself, jumped off the bridge, or I don’t know—I guess one of the favorite ways is a drug overdose or even driving into a semi coming down the highway or something—there would be a body. Obviously I don’t know anything about committing suicide, but there’s always a body left behind.”
“There’s almost always a body,” Mack corrected. “But we don’t always find everybody who is lost at sea, like we don’t always find everybody who’s been lost in the lake.”
“Right,” she said.
“And, if you think about all the country backroads we have here, all kinds of places exist where Johnny may have gone for a joyride and driven off into a ravine.”
She stopped what she was doing, turned around, and looked at him. “Do you think, even after twenty-nine years, that would still hold true?”
“Of course it would,” he said. “Think about the miles and miles of roads around here. And what would have been seen back then wouldn’t necessarily be seen now, considering all the natural growth since then. Maturing trees and bushes can hide a lot.”
“But we have satellite now,” she argued. “People have drones traveling all over the place.”
“Sure. That doesn’t necessarily mean they know what they’re looking at because a piece of shiny metal doesn’t mean a vehicle is stuck underneath there. Besides, did Johnny have his own vehicle?”
“I forgot to ask Penny,” she said. “She’s sending all the digital files to my email too.”
“Forward them to me as well,” he said. “I’ll take a look at what’s in the police files again. I’m not promising anything, but, if something pops, maybe it’s due to a communication error. Unfortunately we’ve seen that happen with cold cases too.”
“What do you mean by communication error?”
“Different departments don’t share info. Particularly back then. What if Johnny headed to Vancouver and got absorbed into the big-city life? He could be homeless. He could have been a John Doe in the morgue. We didn’t any automatic way to check across multiple jurisdictions. It had to be done manually.”
“What if we got something of George’s? Could we run DNA and check through some database to see if his brother has shown up elsewhere?”
“We could, except there’s no budget money for things like that,” Mack said. “In a perfect world we’d have lots of money, and we could run DNA for every missing family member. And, even if something still exists of the brother’s DNA to check, sometimes it’s not a close-enough match to ID a sibling.”
Doreen sighed. “I know Penny is hoping to put her house on the market, but she hasn’t done a heavy clean out yet. Maybe, if she kept a locket with strands of her husband’s hair, we should ask her to preserve it, just in case.”
“Back then DNA had to be directly collected from the missing person. So some evidence of Johnny’s DNA might be hanging around related to his missing person file.”
“That would be evidence, wouldn’t it?”
“Obviously,” he said. “But unfortunately stuff goes missing. So, when I return to the office tomorrow, I’ll take a look and see if we have anything on file. And you might want to send Penny an email, asking her if she has anything of her husband’s. A hairbrush would be ideal.”
“Right. How much do you need?”
“Not too much,” he said. “But we do need something. Hair, nails, skin, blood, tissue, bone. Things like that.”
She wrinkled her nose at him. “What if he was cremated? I doubt there’d be much left in that case.”
“Possibly not,” he said. “It depends if she kept the ashes.”
“She did. The urn is on her mantel. Can you get DNA from the ashes?”
He shrugged. “I’m not sure. I hear bone fragments remain, even with cremations at high heat. Bones retain DNA. However, in most cases, those remaining fragments are ground to ash before being handed over. I don’t know that the ashes can be tested for DNA. It seems like DNA testing is moving forward in leaps and bounds, and nobody knows what we can get from whatever until the test is done. Now they’re doing ancestry DNA, and that’s making huge changes in cold cases.”
“But, in this case, we don’t have any foul play suspected. So we have no suspects to go after, like a killer.”
“If you mean that we don’t have any DNA of a killer at a crime scene, you’re quite right. We don’t even have a crime scene. All we have is that this young man got up one day and walked away.”
“Supposedly. What about the dagger?”
“Same problem,” he said. “Found years later, buried in the ground. When we opened the missing person’s case, no DNA testing was really done back then. Great advances have been made, so who knows what it’ll tell us now? It’s a knife that Johnny owned, that he played with all the time. Of course he cut himself on it. Everybody would have at least once.”
She sighed. “I get that, but it just seems like, if somebody had murdered him with the dagger, there would be skin cells of whoever killed him.”
“Maybe,” he said. “But I doubt it after all that time.”
“Right, but can they test for other tissue?”
“Lab tests can certainly separate different people’s DNA, plus what kind of tissue was found for each person,” he said, “as in semen versus epithelial versus hair, for example.”
She nodded. “I just don’t know enough about it, but at least I have the knife, and, no, I know it won’t be of much value. I think what Penny is really hoping for is that her brother-in-law won’t be forgotten.”
“That’s the hardest thing for any cold-case file. It’s a cold case to the public. But it’s never cold to the family. It just sits there forever.”
“That’s why she hung on to the dagger. It’s a reminder. Not just of Johnny but of his life and probably his death. Of all that’s hanging over her life all this time.”
He stared at her. “And seriously? A dagger in the dahlias?”
“They had a bench in the backyard, where Johnny was last seen. It became something they found very difficult to look at. So they moved it and were digging a new bed and putting in dahlias when they found his dagger.”
“Which makes sense, if he always sat there.”
“I agree,” she said with a shrug. “I don’t have any angle to go on. And there was another thing,” Doreen said with a sigh. “Penny was hoping that because of my association with you—and how the heck does everybody know about that?—she was hoping I might have access to Johnny’s cold-case file. But …”
“Which you know I can’t give you,” he said firmly.
“I told her that. I did explain that I couldn’t do much,” she said. “She seems to think I can do more than I can.”
“But knowing you,” he said, “you’ll do your best anyway.”
Thursday Early Morning …
As soon as Doreen had breakfast the next morning, she cleared off the kitchen table, except for her coffee cup, took out the large envelope from Penny, opened it up, and carefully spread out everything from inside. The dagger was small but had a lethal-looking blade with a very fine tip to it. She laid that off to the side.
She then read the collection of papers. There wasn’t much—a couple newspaper articles about Johnny having gone missing, a poster asking for anybody to come forward who knew anything about Johnny’s whereabouts, and a couple statements with a time line the family had given to the police. They all offered nothing new.
She frowned. “There isn’t anything to go on. I’m sorry, Penny, but I have no clue what I’m supposed to do with this.”
As she sat here pondering, an email came through from the appraiser about the letter she’d found under Nan’s bed.
This is lovely, he wrote, and definitely proof of provenance.
She smiled at that. As she read further, she realized he still wanted her to go through the accordion folder of documents for any more paperwork related to the antiques. She didn’t know why she was hesitating, but she needed to sort through it.
Putting everything back into the envelope Penny had given her, Doreen worried that she could do nothing for Penny. All Doreen could hope for was that Mack would send her something of interest from the police file when he had time.
After a trip to her bedroom, she walked into the living room with the accordion folder she’d found in the bottom dresser drawer. She sat on the couch and pulled out the envelopes stuffed inside, each with a handwritten generic label of its contents. Everything was in here from Last Wills and Testaments and personal certifications to medical records. They were important documents, but nothing to do with the antiques.
The very last envelope she brought out was only half the size of the others. She slowly set out its contents on the coffee table. The receipts were old; some were handwritten and hard to read. She could not make out very much of any of it. Maybe it would make sense to the appraiser, but she had no reason to believe these receipts had anything to do with what she and Scott were particularly looking for.
She put everything back in that envelope, then decided the only way through this was to ignore the envelope designation and sort out all the contents themselves. She took everything out of the accordion folder and laid it all one at a time on the coffee table.
She didn’t find what she’d hoped for—provenance confirming a gold mine of million-dollar antiques—but still Doreen unearthed a gold mine of family information.
She pulled out the medical file and opened it, found a copy of her own birth certificate, which was not surprising, until she saw a DNA certificate and froze. Nan had had Doreen’s DNA tested against her son’s to make sure Doreen was Nan’s blood granddaughter. Doreen winced at that. But she couldn’t really blame her grandmother because her mother had been much less than a one-man kind of woman.
Doreen laid that down along with her birth certificate and slowly went through everything she had from the first envelope. It was a hodgepodge file of everything her mom had sent over time to Nan. It brought back memories, but it was also sad.
Doreen put everything back in the appropriate envelope, reminiscing about a childhood she barely remembered. Obviously Nan had kept mementos of it all. And at least the DNA had confirmed she was truly Nan’s granddaughter. She wasn’t sure what Nan would have done if she’d found out that Doreen wasn’t her blood relative. That would have been hard too. Particularly with her father gone, it would have been devastating for Nan to learn otherwise. And to think that Nan had some reason to get Doreen tested was just sad.
She went back through the other stuff, only to find nothing of the further provenance she searched for. A copy of Nan’s Last Will was here, but it was sealed. Then the paperwork on the house, which was great because now Doreen had a place to file the new deeds when they came. Nan had saved copies of receipts for work done on the house years ago, like how the roof was fifteen years old. Also good to know that she’d at least get another five or ten years out of it hopefully.
Other receipts went even farther back but nothing regarding the antiques in questions. Another envelope was full of correspondence. Doreen pulled it out and looked at all the cards and letters; some of them were on very thin tissue paper. She went through them carefully, smiling at some that appeared to be from lovers who Nan had walked away from. Nan had led a wild and colorful life.
Doreen picked up a piece of paper, recognizing the handwriting. Checking the signature on the bottom, she saw it was to Penny from Nan. Doreen read it quickly—Nan sending condolences on the missing state of Johnny and hoping for a quick resolution to the problem. How very like Nan, Doreen thought. The letter was dated twenty-nine years ago. So then why was it in Nan’s possession and not Penny’s? Maybe Nan had written it but hadn’t sent it? Doreen would ask Nan about it. She set it off to one side to deal with later, but … she needed to know now.
She phoned Nan. When her grandmother answered, she said, “Hi, Nan. How are you doing today?”
“I’d be doing much better,” Nan said in a testy voice, “if you came down and gave me all the facts clearly.”
It was unusual for Nan to be in a difficult mood. Doreen wasn’t sure what was going on. “What facts?”
“The bodies you found in the lake,” she said.
“Oh,” Doreen said, frowning. “You mean about finding Paul Shore?”
“We know what the news reported and how you’re the one who put it all together.” Her voice warmed as she added, “And of course it was you. You’re the biggest sweetheart.”
“And yet, you sound kind of cranky,” Doreen said humorously.
“Well, everybody here was mad at me because I didn’t have all the information from you.”
“Oh my,” Doreen said. “I never even thought to fill you in on the rest. Yesterday was fairly trying and very emotional. I came home, and I didn’t want to deal with people. Although Mack did come over for dinner.” Then she remembered what she’d found earlier. “Oddly enough, I just found a letter from you to Penny Jordan, but it doesn’t look like you ever sent it.”
“Hmm,” Nan said thoughtfully. “That doesn’t make sense.”
“It’s about Johnny, her brother-in-law who went missing.”
“Oh, yes, yes, yes,” Nan said. “I was writing the letter, giving her my condolences, then realized it sounded like Johnny was dead. I didn’t want her to think Johnny was dead. We all hoped the young man had just gone away to make his fortune and would come riding back into town as the ‘big I am’ he thought he was.”
A tone in her voice made it sound like she knew Johnny better than Doreen had suspected. “Did you know Johnny?”
“He used to rake my yard every once in a while, but, like so many kids, he thought he should get paid way more for the little bit of work he did,” Nan said with a sniff. “But he was pleasant enough. He was running around town with the wrong gang, and that made things difficult when he went missing.”
“When you say, the wrong gang? Who?”
“Well, Freddy Black was bad news at the time. And Thomas Burgess. I can’t remember who else. But they were always getting into trouble with the law. You know, like throwing rocks at cars and just generally being a nuisance. Vandalism. Then they got into the drug scene. But I don’t think it was all that bad. At least I didn’t hear too much about it.”
“So you knew Johnny fairly well then?”
“Enough that, when he went missing, I felt sorry for the family. To think of it being almost thirty years ago now, that’s so sad.”
“It is, isn’t it?” Doreen said sympathetically. “Penny asked me if I’d look into the case.”
At first nothing but silence came over the phone; then Nan laughed. “Oh my,” she said. “That is fantastic.”
“No, it’s not,” Doreen grumbled. “I have absolutely nothing to go on. All of the cases I’ve worked on so far have had connections and trails, things I could follow up on. What am I supposed to do with a young man who walked away from his family’s backyard twenty-nine years ago, for heaven’s sake?”
“Well, you can’t speak to the two people I mentioned because they’re both dead. They were killed in a car accident not long after Johnny disappeared.”
“Oh.” Doreen walked into the kitchen and wrote that down on a notepad. “I wonder if it had anything to do with Johnny going missing?”
“Meaning, they might have committed suicide because of what they did to Johnny?” Nan’s voice dropped. “You know what? I never even thought of that. You have a different perspective than most people. I’m glad you’re looking into this. Now it’s a big mystery I really want you to solve.”
“I will try to solve it for Penny’s sake,” Doreen said, “but there isn’t anything here for me to work with. Otherwise I’m sure the police would have done something with it.”
“Cold cases from before the widespread usage of the internet and cell phones and DNA,” Nan said, “just weren’t the same types of investigations. We have so many more tools available now.”
“Sure, but there was no body, no crime scene,” she said. “We don’t even know if he is dead or not. There were so many runaway kids back then that no one even tracked them. I swear it’s in the thousands every year now.”
“I think it’s probably more than that,” Nan said. “But, back then, we didn’t have any way to maintain communication or to share databases between provinces. For all we know, Johnny went to Ontario and built a life for himself there.”
“Did he have a vehicle, do you know?” Doreen asked.
“Yes,” Nan said. “It was an old car. I don’t know what kind it was, but I do remember it was the car the two guys killed themselves in.”
Doreen straightened. “His friends were driving his car?”
“Yeah. We were all wondering what that was about, but the police didn’t seem to think anything of it. When Johnny first disappeared his car did too, so we just thought he’d drive home any time. Only he didn’t and the boys died while driving it.”
“I suspect they did think something of it,” she said, “but, if the car didn’t reveal any evidence, then I’m not sure they had anything to go on.”
“True,” Nan said. “But you might want to cross-reference their case to Johnny’s.”
“Sure. What were their names again?”
“Burgess and Black.”
“Okay. Got it.” She wrote them down, then said, “I’ll send Mack an email, asking if they’re mentioned in the case files.”
“Ha! He’s a great source of information for you.”
“I don’t know about that,” Doreen said with a smile. “He’s not allowed to tell me much. But, in an unusual twist, the police commander stopped me yesterday on my way home after we found the two bodies in the lake. He shook my hand and thanked me.”
“Oh, my goodness. Isn’t that lovely? Peter Cochran is a nice guy,” Nan said. “He was a little young for me, but, for a weekend or so, he was great fun.”
Doreen’s eyes popped wide open. “Are you saying you had an affair with the commander?”
“A very long time ago,” Nan said with a delightful laugh. “He wanted more, but I wasn’t the right person for him. He needed a wife, three kids, two dogs, one cat, and that perfect house with a white picket fence.” She chuckled. “But that doesn’t change the fact he is good at his job, and I’m very happy he did well by you.”
Doreen was still struck by the admission that Nan had had an affair with a police commander. “If you know anybody at the old folks’ home who has any information on Johnny’s disappearance, let me know, will you?”
“Why don’t you come down and have tea?” Nan said. “I’ll get more details from you on yesterday too.”
Just then Doreen remembered the letter she’d found underneath the bed. “Nan, that’s an excellent idea. I have something to show you anyway.”
“I’ll put on the teakettle. You get the animals and come on down.” Nan sighed. “I have to admit, I could use a hug today.” And she hung up.
Thursday Late Morning …
It took a few minutes to round up the animals. Mugs was well-mannered, until he heard the leash rattle; then he barked all over the place, chasing Goliath, who appeared to take deep offense and cornered Mugs in the kitchen, swatting at him twice. Trying to separate the two was not fun.
Finally she got them all calmed down with a treat or two and had another pocketful of treats handy. With Thaddeus on her shoulder, she opened the kitchen door, and all four of them headed out to Nan’s place, via the creek. There was just no other path for her. Any chance she had, she chose to walk by the water. Besides, she wanted to avoid her front yard and anybody wanting to talk to her.
So many things had changed since she had moved here. The animals were just one part of it. She used to deal well with people, mostly because she had a polished glossy tone, not giving offense, not taking offense, kinda like being dead inside. And now here she did everything she could to avoid people, at least certain people.
She was happy to see the sun shining. She loved the way the long shadows of the sun’s arms touched on the green leaves as they gently waved in the wind. This was a nice thing about her house being on the creek; it was in a bit of a valley, and the wind whistled down with such gentleness that it always made her smile. Listening to the water, listening to the wind and the birds, it was incredibly peaceful.
She wasn’t sure when, if ever in all of her marriage, she’d had an opportunity to enjoy Mother Nature as much as she did here. And who knew it was something she would fall in love with, without actual gardening involved. Here she could listen to the birds for hours, just sitting beside the creek, dipping her toes in the icy water, even though she knew what had come out of it in the last couple weeks. The creek remained special. It made her feel connected.
She was thoroughly jealous of all those people who lived in the countryside. Not that she wanted to milk cows or to raise chickens for their eggs or anything, but she yearned to have some real space to wander without being hemmed in by houses or people. Yet what she had here was a great first step in that direction. She loved to dip her fingers in the creek, to feel that connection, that sense of peace, that oneness. How fanciful of her. Still, if she had learned one thing with all the recent chaos, it was that life was short, too short. What she really needed to do was find a way to make the most of what time she did have. She’d lost so much with her pending divorce, and yet, she’d already gained so much more. If she’d had any idea a life like this existed for her outside of her marriage, she’d have left a long time ago.
Of course she hadn’t really left of her own choice. She’d been replaced. She’d fought it kicking and screaming; that had been because of fear—fear of what was happening, fear of what would happen to her afterward, fear of where she’d live, fear of the future. Those thoughts were so bad, so detrimental to her. Because of how absolutely stunningly wonderful her future was, even this early version of it.
Smiling, she opened her arms wide and did a jig, dancing and twirling on the path. “I know, Mugs. I’m acting crazy,” she stated gaily. “But life is good. How can anybody not appreciate this?”
Mugs barked, jumping around with her. She chuckled and resumed walking, her footsteps light, her heart even lighter. “Let’s go visit Nan,” she said. “Unlike us, she hasn’t had a good day.”
In fact, her grandmother worried Doreen. Nan alternated between being “all there” in mind and in body and not even close. Now that Doreen finally had Nan back in her life again, Doreen didn’t want to lose her grandmother. She’d do anything to give that special woman another twenty years on earth with her.
As it was, it was hard to know how to help her. Nan had friends and a busy life. She seemed to enjoy her current lifestyle too.
Doreen had the photocopy of the letter she had taken from underneath the bed. She wasn’t sure if that would add to Nan’s despondency or if it would make her feel better. Doreen wanted it to make her grandmother feel better obviously.
She was bringing back a lot of powerful memories. She didn’t want to upset Nan any more than she had to. She was the sweetest old lady. Okay, so she had this gambling habit. But it really wasn’t so much her gambling right now; it was Nan getting other people to gamble.
At that, she laughed out loud. “Nan, you keep Mack hopping. That can’t be a bad thing.”
She went around the corner, watching the traffic as they crossed the road. They weren’t very far from the old folks’ home. As she approached, she saw the gardener standing out front, talking to somebody. As soon as he saw her, he put his hands on his hips and pointed his finger at her. She stopped and asked, “And what is it you want me to do? I can’t take the animals in the building. So, if I don’t cut across the lawn, how do I get to Nan’s place?”
“You come without the animals.” His voice was gruff. “It’s bad enough you walk on the grass, but now you get all the animals on it too.” He crossed his arms, not budging an inch.
Not to be deterred