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Chapter 10
What Dawn Left Behind

The next week was extremely busy, for both Courtney and I. I touched bases with Courtney a few times, but she had to finish cleaning the garage on Monday, and mowed the lawn on Tuesday; delivered her papers and did some collections on Wednesday; lazed around the house and did nothing but read on Thursday; and cleaned the house and did laundry on Friday. I was equally busy canning and freezing green beans, squash, and other garden vegetables. I dropped a jar of pickles and some fresh squash and tomatoes by Cal’s office, hoping for information, but he had nothing new to share.

The sun was beginning to go down and the mosquitoes were hungrier than usual on Friday evening, so I went in early and made a salad for dinner. Just as I finished putting the salad together, the phone rang. Absent minded me reached into my pocket for my cell, and then realized it was the house phone, and I grabbed it up on the last ring. The call required that I dress and take a ride to Pop’s. I had not had even one bite of my salad! I eyed it with regret as I placed it in the frig.

Pop’s is a unique environment for Connors Station. Like most small towns, natural divisions group the citizens – religious or political affiliation, income. Although we are too small for a country club, we do have a small golf course with a “club house.” We have “the other side of the tracks.” We also have our “Professor” and the other college educated professionals. However, at Pop’s, everyone blends. A card game is usually going on in the back room. Even if the players place friendly bets, it is not gambling, since it is between friends.

In addition to the grill, Pop has bait, tackle, and two gas pumps. He always has a “wayward woman” (Doc’s terminology) he is training as a waitress. Betty, the waitress at the Downtown Diner started at Pop’s. During the summer months, he hires one of the “economically disadvantaged” high school boys to pump gas and do minor mechanical work. Pop talks to the vocational education teacher at the high school and finds a boy happy for the experience in exchange for free gas and meals. One of his summer employees from the mid-50s – a young man in my class – now owns his own auto dealership in a neighboring town. Pop seems old and I cannot remember a time without him. He likes to talk about “the wars” – if he had not been in them all, his stories certainly sound real enough to be first hand. If you ask Pop if he had “been there,” he takes offense. The folks in town are always trying to figure out how old Pop is and if he had a life before Connors Station and his diner. No one ever succeeds in getting any information, not even Ruth Ellen Hayes.

Although old, Pop does not have the shrunken look some old people get. He is completely bald, and remains clean-shaved, with no gray or white hair visible on his head or face. The hair on his arms is white, but Pop spends time in his garden behind the store growing fresh herbs and vegetables for his cooking, so the hairs appear sun-bleached on his perpetually tanned skin. He is big and brawny and solid, the type of person you do not mess with, which is why his diner is so safe. People who would fight in another environment remain cordial to each other at Pop’s place.
When Pop called and said he had information about Miss Nancy Parker, I did not doubt him for a moment. Even though it would be dark soon and I hated driving after dark because of the deer and other animals along our country roads, I hastily dressed, jumped in my car, and headed north of town.

Pop does not trust anyone else to do the cooking, so he keeps the menu short, listing just the items he enjoys. His daily special might consist of hash and eggs, even at dinnertime, or spaghetti and meatballs at breakfast. I never heard anyone complain – Pop’s cooking is extraordinary. I found Pop in the kitchen tasting the contents of a large pot.

“Here, Mrs. Wilson, taste this stew and see if you can guess what spices I put in.”

“My Pop, this is excellent. Let’s see, I taste bay leaf, parsley, and a hint of mint, am I right?”

“You have pure taste buds.”

“About Miss Parker. Why did you call me?

“Well, I happen to know you were in the park with Courtney Connors. Local gossip is sometimes more accurate than the local paper. And, I have always had a great deal of respect for you. Henry was a good friend. I’ve missed him.”

“You and Henry?”

“Yes. He used to come by and visit. We’d have these great philosophical discussions – sometimes arguments. No, not arguments really. Just debates about morality, where our country was headed politically and spiritually. I think we filled a void for each other in some way.”

“I never knew.”

“He talked about you sometimes. Boy, that man really loved you!”
Tears came to my eyes. He saw them and said, “I’m sorry.’

“No, don’t be. These are not tears of sadness, really. Just tears of memory, so to speak.”

“Well, given what I know of you and the fact that you were involved in finding her body, it seemed like a good idea to call you and see what you think I should do.”

“About what?”

“She was here. Nancy Parker. I was wondering if someone would ever get around to asking me about her.”

“Well, Courtney and I speculated on how she arrived in town – if she might have taken the bus. I have been meaning to call you and ask about bus schedules. Is that how she came to Connors Station, on a bus?”

“Right, last Saturday night. I didn’t think at first she was staying. Got off with no suitcase and bought a sandwich and some coffee. Asked for it to go, like she was getting back on the bus.”Pop paused and I could tell he was unsure if he should be telling me anything. He turned to stir his stew and took time to poor coffee into an oversize mug looking older and more worn than he did. He offered me some, but I declined, since coffee after 4:00 p.m. keeps me from falling asleep.

I wanted to say something to get him talking again, but sensed it would be best if I let him tell me in his own way when he was ready. After he added milk and sugar to his coffee, he turned back and began talking, more to himself than to me.

“She asked me some questions about Connors Station – what kind of a town it is to live in, are folks friendly, are jobs to be had – that sort of thing. I thought she must have liked my answers, because next thing I know, the bus pulls out, and she walks through the door with a suitcase in her hand. Sits in that booth right over by the window and eats her sandwich and drinks her coffee real slow, all the time looking out the window.”

After another pause, this one to take money from a gasoline customer, he continued. “Such a pretty thing. Not like some of the ones who end up here working for me – unhappy, and lost, and alone. No, she looked happy and expectant like, as if she was waiting for something good coming her way. I thought at first she got off at Connors Station on a whim, you know, after asking those questions and all. But then she took out a piece of paper and tried to use her cell phone. No reception out here and I like it that way. Asked if I had a phone she could use. She assured me it was a local call, so I let her.

“I don’t know who she called, but she was mad when she got off the phone. Asked me when the next bus went through heading back to New York. Well, we only get one through here going west and one going east each week – told her it would be Wednesday before the eastbound came through. Would have put her up, but my new girl likes her privacy and I didn’t think it would be right imposing on her. Told her about the motel on the other side of town. Wanted to call a taxi. Told her we didn’t have one.

“Phone rings just about then. When I answer, I hear a man, voice muffled and not recognizable. He asks for ‘Dawn.’ I assume he means my only female customer and I was right. When she got off the phone, she asked me to keep her suitcase for her. Said she’d be back for it. Well, I don’t like assuming that kind of responsibility, but she was persuasive, even cried a little. I admit I felt foolish when I read in the paper she was an actress – she used her skills on me effectively! I’m in the kitchen when I hear a car. By the time I turn the stove down and get out front, all I see are taillights.

““I hate breaking a confidence. After all, the young lady asked me to keep it for her, wait until she came back, and not say anything to anybody. I’ve been thinking of calling the county sheriff. I just didn’t want someone going through her personal stuff, you know. Look, Mrs. Wilson, I just want to get rid of her bag. I’ve got no use for it and whenever I look at it, I’m tempted to open it. I wouldn’t of course. I’m just not sure what to do with it – give it to you, call Sheriff Connors, or Bill Tate?”

“I understand. How about if I call Sheriff Connor to come get the bag? He can be here in about fifteen minutes, the bag will be off your hands, and he’ll know what to do with it.”

“Okay, go call him. I’ll get the bag and both of you a quart of stew to take home for your trouble.”

Sheriff Connor arrived within ten minutes. Courtney was with him and followed Pop to his storage area to retrieve the suitcase.

“Mrs. Wilson, why did he call you about this?” Cal asked.

“Maybe it is because I am close to his age. And he said he knew my Henry well and they were friends. Your guess is as good as mine.”

Cal provided Pop with an official receipt for “evidence.”   

I wanted to go to the Connor’s house. If Cal decided to open Miss Parker’s bag I did not want to miss it, but I was exhausted. The last week was extremely busy. I did not want to miss services the next day, and my garden needed attention.

I ate my salad too quickly to savor it and hoped eating so late would not keep me awake. I was also afraid my curiosity about the suitcase might delay sleep. I made a quick call to the Connors. Cal said they had looked in the suitcase, and there were some letters. He promised that either he or Courtney would fill me in later.

I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. I woke refreshed at 6:00 and decided to do some weeding and picking before eating breakfast and showering for the day.
 


Comments

I am glad that the chapter ten is out. I was waiting for a long time. I must say all the ten chapters of park princess are nice.

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03/17/2017 2:12am

As I was expecting, chapter 10 was able to deliver the back story of the past chapters very well. It smoothly jumped into the next chapter without any flaw. Courtney's story is still the most interesting part of the story. The writer also gave emphasize to her struggles. The writer added some extra scenes that helped the whole story. Over all, chapter 10 impressed me a lot!

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06/13/2017 12:06pm

It's an amaing chapter. Can't wait to read the whole book. You should publish it soon.

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Susan Box Mann, Writer