After lunch, I reminded Dad that I still needed to turn in my collections. He wanted me to stay home and watch movies with him, but Gallagher wanted to interview me for a follow-up story about how Miss Parker’s death has affected me.
“Are you sure you should go, honey? I mean, don’t you think you should just stay home and put this whole experience behind you?”
“Look, Dad. I need closure here. Talking to Gallagher about how I’m getting past the experience will help.”
“Okay, okay! I can tell I’m not going to win this one,” he said with a laugh.
Papers weren’t delivered in town until Dad and I brainstormed job ideas for me. Connors Station had few opportunities for teenage employment. As soon as a teen became old enough to drive, they made the forty-minute trip to the suburbs of the nearest large city to work in fast food or a similar occupation.
I cleverly negotiated a contract (thanks to my dad) not dependent solely on collections, since collections would not provide a steady income. I turned in all the money to Mr. Gallagher, and he gave me back 50% monthly for my deliveries. I put half of that in my savings account, gave a quarter to God, and spent the rest on myself, usually on clothes or school supplies. I kept track of my time each week, earning $2.00 per hour plus tips. After my savings and church contributions, I usually had about twenty to twenty-five dollars a week, plenty for lunches and other incidental expenses.
My route was just the right size, not too large or too small, and I increased Gallagher’s circulation with customers like Doc, frequently too busy to remember to purchase a paper, and our absent-minded Professor Finch. And, of course, we had our share of semi-invalid shut-ins who loved to feed me sweets if I would only take a few minutes visiting with them occasionally.
Gallagher was on the phone when I arrived at the newspaper office, and he gestured for me to take a seat next to his desk. He ended his phone conversation and asked how I was doing. I assured him I felt fine and reminded him that since my dad served as sheriff, the seedier side of life did not scare me. His interview didn’t take long and I knew he was disappointed. Although he was fishing for information, I knew nothing different or new from what everyone else did. I guess he thought I might know something interesting from my dad. He asked me about Mrs. Wilson. I hadn’t been aware he even remembered her involvement. He explained he intentionally did not mention her name in the story. “A woman her age doesn’t need a lot of excitement.” I tried envisioning Mrs. Wilson thrown by anything and failed!
Although I did need to turn in my collections and talk to Mr. Gallagher, my real motivation was having a talk with Grace Glisson. Usually I avoided talking to Mrs. Glisson, because anything you said, no matter how innocently, might end up in one of her columns. I remembered her overhearing a complaint I made to Mr. Gallagher about how Mrs. Stevens declared I delivered torn up papers. I knew her dog considered the paper a large chew toy. That wouldn’t have rated column space, but I inadvertently mentioned that same little fuzz ball went for my ankles every time I tried to collect and that all delivery people avoided her house. He looked cute, but when he attached his pointy little teeth to your ankle, it hurt! I wore my dad’s old combat boots when I tried to collect after that. Another time I made the mistake of mentioning she did not like to pay, always with the excuse she hadn’t been to the bank lately, so I hadn’t collected any money for months. Well, next thing I know, Mrs. Steven’s “vicious” dog and hinted-at “money problems” appear in “Graces Gab,” Mrs. Glisson’s weekly column. Never one to be sneaky about her sources, she quoted me. I still delivered her paper, but she sent her payments directly to the paper, which meant no money for me. I learned to avoid Snuggles, her nasty little dog.
Now, to work into our conversation queries about New York. “Mrs. Glisson, I . . .
“Call me Grace, dear. Everyone does around here. I miss my husband more when people call me Mrs. Just Grace, please.”
I felt uncomfortable calling someone old enough to be my grandmother, Grace, but, if that was what she desired, I would comply, because I didn’t want anything getting in the way of my inquiries.
“Uh, Grace. Have you ever been to New York? I mean, I haven’t. But ever since Miss Parker’s death, I’ve been curious about what it’s like.” I intentionally didn’t call it a murder, because that wasn’t my emphasis in this conversation.
“Oh, yes, Courtney. Years ago, my William took me to see a Broadway play – the 1964 musical Funny Girl with Barbra Streisand. I’ll never forget how wonderful she was.”
“Miss Parker was in an off-Broadway play. What’s the difference between off-Broadway and Broadway?”
“Well, Courtney, the off-Broadway plays are hoping to be hits, and the on-Broadway plays are hits.”
“So, Miss Parker wasn’t really a star?”
“Not yet. Although she certainly was beautiful enough to be one, wasn’t she? Why Ruth Ellen Hayes said the other day that the dress Miss Parker had on was an exact copy of . . . “
I didn’t want to be impolite, but once Mrs. Glisson started talking, you could spend all day listening to what this one said and that one didn’t. So, I interrupted.
“Yes, I’m sure. So, you haven’t been to New York for years?”
“No, Courtney. However, I keep in touch with an old college friend who lives there. Every year we say we are going to get together. Connors Station holds no attraction for a visitor, and I’m scared to venture to New York alone at my age. Maybe this year. And, of course, I do ask everyone who has been there to give me information for my column.”
Aha! Now for the good stuff. “Oh, so we do have folks from Connors Station who go to New York?”
“Why, of course, dear. The doctor used to go at Christmas with his wife before she died. He still goes every year for a few days, though not the weeklong trip they used to take together. Professor Finch goes in the summer for research and to further his education. I think he took a drama course at New York University last summer. And we have the wives of our more prominent citizens who like to shop the New York stores; Mrs. Ferguson, Mayor Monroe’s wife, and Helen Young. Come to think of it, quite a few folks visit the Big Apple. Why, even the county sheriff went to law-enforcement seminar last summer. I remember because his wife, Jean, wanted to go with him, but he refused. Boy, was she mad! I remember how she called and wanted me to run something nasty in my column about his trip; I can’t recall exactly what, but, of course, I refused. Did I tell you what Ruth Ellen Hayes told me the other day?”
“Oh, I’m so sorry Mrs. Glisson, I mean Grace, but I have to go. I’ll see you next Friday when I come to see Mr. Gallagher. You have a nice week now. Bye!”
I hurried out the door as fast as possible, and there was Mrs. Wilson. “What are you doing here?” I asked.
She seemed hesitant to reply. “I know your father warned us about “investigating,” but my curiosity won’t be satisfied until I at least know why that girl was here. I’m going to see what Grace Glisson knows about visitors to New York.”
I couldn’t believe it. She took my idea. “Uh, I don’t think you are going to find out anything exciting. I just got through talking to her.”
“You’re kidding! Well, what did you find out?”
Well, she did feed me cookies and cinnamon rolls, so I guess it would be unfair to leave her out. “Look, I’m on the way to Paterson’s Drugs to buy a composition book to jot down what I learned. Why don’t you come with me?”
“I still want to see Grace. I’ll only be a few minutes, then I’ll join you at either Paterson’s or the Downtown Diner, where I’ll treat you to a shake if you will share your information.”
Mrs. Wilson met me at Paterson’s Drugs. Shortly after she got there, I spotted the Parkers. Mrs. Parker saw me immediately and I introduced her to Mrs. Wilson. We both expressed our condolences. As she had the other evening, she began talking about Nancy, her happy childhood, popular teen years, and her involvement in the high school drama club that led to her interest in acting. Mr. Parker stood uncomfortably by, shifting from one foot to another.
“Courtney, will you be around tomorrow? Nancy’s body is coming from the county seat. I feel a connection to you for some reason and I just don’t know how . . .,” Mrs. Parker said with a sob.
“Mrs. Parker, I am not sure what I can do . . .”
“Just be there and . . .”
Her husband interrupted to remind his wife of their purpose.
“Irene, let’s get that prescription to help you sleep and get back to the motel. You need to get rested before tomorrow.”
She smiled bravely and drifted towards the pharmacy.
“Sorry, ladies. When she starts talking about Nancy, there is no stopping her. This has been terribly hard on her. Don’t know what she’ll be like when we get home. I’m thinking of going away for a while, Florida perhaps. You know, away from all her memories.” He left to join his wife. I looked at Mrs. Wilson and saw she was feeling as down as I, but I knew this encounter would only encourage both of us in our quest for the truth. These poor people needed closure!
I explained to Mrs. Wilson that I liked composition books because you could not tear out a page. Doing so ruined the whole book as pages began falling out. I did not want to dispose of something I thought wasn’t important that later might be useful and using the composition book helped make sure I kept all my notes. Mrs. Wilson liked my reasoning and we both bought one. Hers was black and mine was blue.
As we sipped our root beer floats, we wrote down everything that happened since we found the body in the park. Mrs. Wilson helped recall small details. I told her about my deliveries to Doc Daniel and Professor Finch and the fact that they both saw Dawn Davis in New York. She was surprised! I also told her about the poster in Doc’s office and the ringing of the bell by someone, possibly to interrupt our conversation.
As I pulled the scrap of paper I used in Doc’s office from my pocket and added my jottings about my visit to Professor Finch to the information in my book, she asked, “I wonder what Doc’s impression of the Parkers was.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, Mrs. Parker was getting a prescription filled and the only place she could have obtained one in town is from Doc.”
“I hadn’t thought of that.”
She paused and thought a moment before replying, “Also, I wonder what their conversation was like. Did he mention he knew their daughter and did they see his poster?”
“Well, speculation won’t do any good. Let’s get back to what we know,” I suggested.
“Well, I asked Grace Glisson to see if she could show me the crime scene photos taken for the paper. She said she would get them together and then call me to come in and see them.”
“Can I go with you?”
“Uh, I’ll tell you what. If anything looks interesting, I’ll ask Grace to make a copy for me and share that with you. I’m not sure the pictures will be of any use, but it’s worth a try.”
We wrote down the names of everyone else who went to New York, starting with the most likely suspects, and ending with the county sheriff, the least likely in both our opinions.
After we consumed our shakes, we talked and laughed for another half hour. She didn’t seem old. She told jokes, and I found out she was a list maker like me. She said she would check her list at home and see if we had left anything out of our composition books. If so, she would give me a call.
We started to divide the people on our list to investigate, and then realized people knew about my involvement, but not hers. She would just seem like another curious citizen. Plus, she wasn’t the daughter of the local sheriff. She would also see what she could learn from our local gossip, Ruth Ellen Hayes. If either of us found anything important, we’d be in contact. Otherwise, we wouldn’t get together until tomorrow afternoon.