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Part 2: Finders Keepers

Chapter 4

“Hi Dad, I’m home.”

“Do you want a late breakfast?”

“No thanks. I stopped by Mrs. Wilson’s and she fed me cinnamon rolls.”

“Sit down, Courtney, and tell me, young lady, just how did your collections go?”

The tone in Dad’s voice said he knew the collections were an excuse. Maybe because he is a single parent, God gave him an extra ability to understand exactly what was going on with me. Dad opened the door for confession. How much did I want to tell him? I was already partially grounded and if he discovered I visited the Parkers at their motel, I’d be lucky to get out for church this Sunday.

“Dad, I have a problem. I didn’t deliver three of my papers yesterday, and now one of my customers won’t get a paper.”

“I don’t understand. Are you missing one?”

“Yes . . .  I took it to the motel north of town.”

“Okay, Courtney, we can keep playing this cat and mouse game, or you can tell me what you’ve been up to. Obviously, you have not just been out delivering and collecting. How dumb do you think I am? Your collections are usually an excuse for freedom. I just don’t want them becoming an excuse for license. You do understand the difference, don’t you, Courtney?”

“Yes, Dad, you’ve told me hundreds of times. ‘Freedom involves responsibility; license involves finding excuses for doing something you shouldn’t.’ I have a reason and I will accept the responsibility. I just had to meet the Parkers and find out why their daughter was in town. They are staying at Morton’s Motel. After all, I found the body. Doesn’t that give me some the responsibility for finding the truth?”

“So, you went to the motel to meet the Parkers. And just where did that idea come from? No, don’t tell me. Did your Mrs. Wilson have anything to do with this?”

“Well, we both feel kind of responsible, and we feel a sort of connection, I guess, having found the body and all.”

“I don’t want you involved in this business, but since you obviously want to tell me what you found out, go ahead. I doubt two grief-stricken parents are dangerous.”

“Her mother thinks her darling daughter was perfect, but her father says she was boy crazy and thinks some guy brought or met her here and killed her. What do you think, Dad?”

“Heaven only knows. I’m planning on bowing out of this one and letting the county boys take care of it. If someone transported her body here from out of state, the feds will want to get involved. I’m just a small-town cop without the experience to investigate murder.”

“Oh, come on Dad. Most of solving a mystery is asking good questions and looking for reasonable answers.”

“I’m staying out of this one and I want you to. This isn’t someone’s lost dog, or the deed to property. This is murder.”

“But Dad . . .”

“No more Courtney!”

Dad closed the subject with that look of his that said. “Enough!”

What was I going to do? I shouldn’t go against my dad’s wishes. What if I just investigated Miss Parker’s life and not her death? I’d have to ask Brother Sherwood, my preacher, if that would be okay. The deceit I’d practiced at the motel concerned me as well. I hadn’t lied outright. I remembered a sermon about how misleading someone was the same as lying. Boy, this Christian business can be difficult when you deal with solving a mystery.

I still needed to deliver the rest of my papers to the customer I’d missed. I reminded my dad and he suggested I use our already-read paper for one of my customers. I decided to give it to Mrs. Stevens. I wasn’t even sure she read the paper, seeing as how she knew most of the news from her gossipy friends before the paper even came out.

Dad said I had to go straight to the newspaper office to turn in my collections after my deliveries, and that he would call frequently and keep a timeline of my activities to make sure I didn’t make any changes in the plan.

I pitched a paper at Mrs. Stephen’s porch, glad her little dog, Snuggles, wasn’t outside ready to nip my ankles.

Professor Finch’s mailbox overflowed, as usual. I wondered what would happen if I didn’t periodically take the mail to his door. Would the postal service stop delivering if the box got so full it couldn’t close? I parked my bike and leafed quickly through the envelopes scanning for a New York postmark as I walked up his steps – nothing.

I knew from experience that I needed to wait a good while after ringing the bell. Professor Finch always looked like he had just gotten out of bed, even in the classroom. As far as I knew, he had never been an actual college professor. Early in his career at Wells County High, a surly student called him “Professor,” with an insulting sneer, and the name stuck. He looked like one; tall, angular, with bushy eyebrows and hair that always needed combing. He smoked a pipe and wore either tweed or corduroy sports coats. He wasn’t bad looking, exactly, just nondescript – the kind of man you wouldn’t look at twice in a crowd. He wore thick glasses that always looked dirty. In fact, everything about him looked messy. He never asked me in, which was okay, but I saw piles of books on every available piece of furniture and everything looked dank and dusty, including the professor.

“Ah, Courtney. Collecting again so soon?”

“Actually Professor, you didn’t get your paper yesterday because of the rain. Here it is, and your mail, too.”

“I didn’t pay you last time, did I? Haven’t been to the bank for a while. No need, what with on-line banking and all.” He opened the paper and glanced at the headline.

“Terrible tragedy. Beautiful girl. She looks lovely in this picture.”

“I guess so. At least better than she did lying on that jogging path.”

“Do they know anything about her death? I mean, with your father being the sheriff and all, maybe . . .” He seemed even more confused than usual, if that was possible.

“No one knows anything, at least not that I know of. My dad says they will release more information about cause of death after they inform her parents. I guess they are trying to find out why she visited Connors Station. I heard my dad say they are not even sure how she got here.”

“Well, she might have taken a bus. This may not have been her destination. Maybe she was just running away and ended up here.”

I said, “I hadn’t thought of that,” and I hadn’t. I’d have to check bus schedules. We didn’t have a bus station; the bus simply stopped at Pop’s, a store and grill just east of town. Come to think of it, close to northeast end of the park. I’d have to check and see if a bus coming from New York stopped in town one of the nights before we found her body.

“. . . the last time. Courtney, you should pay attention when I am talking. That’s one sign of a good student.”

“I’m sorry, Professor Finch. I was lost in thought. Have you ever been to New York?”

“That’s what I was just telling you. I saw Nancy Parker in an off-Broadway play last summer while visiting New York. Of course, in the play she wasn’t Nancy Parker, but ‘Dawn Davis’– her stage name. She had a role in a ridiculously predictable family drama I saw and reviewed for a class I took in Modern Drama. She was the only good thing about the play; truly lovely and with a natural talent. I do believe she might have gone far. Too bad, she had such a premature death. Courtney, it’s my opinion that Connors Station holds no answers. She came from New York. Those big cities are filled with crime and intrigue.”

“Well, my dad said Constable Tate has contacted the police in New York City. We should all know something soon.”

“I hope so. Here, Courtney.” He reached into his pocket, pulled out a well-worn wallet and extended a twenty towards me.

“That’s too much, Professor. You only owe eight dollars.”

“Nonsense! What would I do if you did not give me my mail and ring the bell when you bring my paper? It takes extra effort to get off your bike and walk to my door. I do appreciate it, Courtney. I am not as obtuse as I look. Better run along now, and be careful. If you ask the wrong person the right questions, you might have more attention and trouble than you care to.”

Professor Finch’s ominous warning still rang in my mind as I entered the foyer of Doctor Daniel’s “office.” After his wife died, he gave up his office downtown and moved his files and a few pieces of vital equipment to his home. He used what had previously been the formal dining room as his office, and remodeled most of the downstairs to serve as examining rooms and supply areas. Doc lived upstairs. He only kept the patients that were too old or too poor to go to the county seat for treatment. He didn’t have a receptionist, just a nurse. You went into the waiting room and that’s what you did – wait. It never took long until the nurse called out “next.” A bell on the desk was for an emergency or if you were just impatient. I’d never seen anyone ring it. Not that I was sick often, but Doc had a good ear for listening to problems. I loved my dad, but there were things he just wouldn’t talk about, like his childhood and his marriage to my Mom. Doc knew them both and became my source of information, usually positive. He may have embellished the truth to make me feel better. Maybe my parents did not have such a wonderfully romantic courtship and marriage. To be quite honest, I didn’t care. My desire for information meant I didn’t bother to check for veracity.

There were no patients in the waiting room. I had only been sitting for a few minutes – long enough to jot down notes on my conversation with Professor Finch on a scrap of paper I found in my pocket – when Doc himself stuck his head through the door.

“Courtney, come on back to my study. What brings you here? Your dad just called and wanted to know if I had seen you yet.”

“Actually, I brought your paper. I was so wet and cold yesterday morning, and then time just seemed to fly by. I’m sorry it’s a day late.”

“Thursday?” He glanced at the calendar. “Oh, yes, so it is. I saw the paper in town yesterday. Hadn’t thought about not getting one from you.”

As I took a seat, directly across from me hung a poster for Dawn Davis staring in The Memory Chest.

“Ah, you see my poster. Yes, I knew our Miss Parker – though not by that name. I went to New York City last summer. Used to go in the winter at Christmas, but Professor Finch took a class, and I decided to go for the weekend. He had free tickets to that play – part of his class at New York University in Performance Studies. We met our Miss Parker, Dawn Davis to me, after the play. I guess she was flattered by my attentions, and we went out. Quite a shock to see her here in Connors Station. Cannot, for the life of me, figure out what she was doing here, can you?”

His question threw me off completely. I was already going through mental gymnastics after seeing the poster. This was Doc, my friend and mentor. I could not picture his laughing and talking in a New York nightclub with Miss Parker, a girl half his age. When looked at objectively, I had to admit Doc was good looking for a man his age. He still had a full head of hair, most of it silver gray, but he wore it well. He was of average height and weight and looked fit, probably because he knew the importance of staying healthy. Still, he was way too old for Nancy.

 “I know – there’s no fool like an old fool. I admit I was smitten. Fortunately, I only stayed in the city for that one night. Not that I think she had any real interest in me.”

I recovered, but still had no idea what to say. “Not at all, Doc. You’re a good listener and a good friend. You have many good qualities, and I’m sure Nancy Parker saw them just as clearly as I do.”

“That’s sweet, Courtney, but, nevertheless, you must admit, I’ve thrown you a little by my ‘confession’.”

The last word he spoke did throw me. What was he confessing to me? My confusion must have shown as I mumbled, “I’ve got to go, Doc. I don’t want to take your valuable time. Besides, your bell in the waiting room is ringing.”  It surprised both of us and gave an even better excuse for my leaving.

“I’ll walk out with you, Courtney. Come back again soon.”

No one sat in the waiting room and the front door closing indicated someone just made a hasty retreat. We both moved to the door, but whoever rang the bell had disappeared. I didn’t say anything to Doc – there was nothing to say. I went on my way, and when I looked back from the corner, he stood on the porch watching after me. I couldn’t see his face, but his body looked somehow ominous. I hated to think Doc had anything to do with Miss Parker’s death.

My phone rang and I knew it was Dad. “Courtney, where are you?”

“I’m just leaving Doc’s.”

“You sound exhausted. Come on home. I’ll start some soup for lunch and make toasted cheese sandwiches.

Relief almost brought me to tears. I wanted to tell Dad about my visits with the Professor and Doc. I just wasn’t sure how I felt about what I discovered.



04/13/2017 12:41am

The title "Finders Keepers" totally suits this chapter well. This chapter sent chills to my spines. You are a great writer, I must say to be able to share that emotion to your readers. Courtney's character is too entwined with the story. She portrays a very realistic role that makes your novel more interesting. A writer must know how to combine reality and fiction in a masterpiece. People reading your work will possibly be confused. But I think that's a great thing!


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Susan Box Mann, Writer