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Part 3: The Need to Know
Chapter 8
Permission to Pursue

No one saw my conspiratorial wink. I hoped Courtney would be satisfied to listen and let me ask any necessary questions. It soon became apparent that no questions were necessary; we just listened to Mrs. Parker monologue about Nancy.

She began recounting the same details we heard at the drugstore. It started to get more interesting when Brother Sherwood queried, “What I would like to know is more about your daughter’s spiritual countenance. Was she a believer? Did she participate in church activities – that sort of thing?”

Mrs. Parker surprised me when she turned towards her husband and said, “Frank, that’s more a question for you.”

“Nancy always went to church with us when she was little. Stayed active as a teen because her best friend was the preacher’s daughter. Her involvement pleased us, because Nancy was a follower with a history of making bad choices. I was dead set against an acting career for her, but my wife felt she had real talent.”

His wife picked up the account. “She was talented. And such a good girl growing up – always respectful and made good grades in school. If she had one problem, it was her attractiveness. She was not just pretty, but beautiful. Even as a little girl, the photographers always wanted to take extra pictures of her and display them to promote their business. She could have made commercials or been a child actor, but Frank would have none of that,” she said with a bitter tone.

“You know why. She already got way too much attention from the boys. I didn’t want to encourage her.”

“Well, that’s in the past. To my way of thinking, there is nothing wrong with being beautiful.”

“Yes, and I wouldn’t be surprised if her beauty led to her death.”

Mrs. Parker began weeping quietly. “Oh, you can say awful things sometimes!”

No one spoke until Brother Sherwood broke the silence, “Well, none of us know the workings of God. I am sure you will share many pleasant memories of your daughter in the future. I have enough information to present a eulogy. Did your daughter have any favorite verses or songs?

Mr. Parker answered. “Nancy loved Psalm 23. She liked the hymn for that one, too.”

“Very appropriate,” said Mr. Ferguson. “Well, I know you folks must be exhausted. Maybe we had best call it a night.” He turned to Mr. Parker. “If you agree, I think we should have the service at 2:00 in the afternoon.”

“That’s fine. Whatever you think is best,” he responded.

Mrs. Parker stopped her sniffling and everyone began to rise and prepare to leave. Franny Ferguson asked if anyone wanted casserole to take home. I suggested they would freeze nicely and it was so late, everyone needed to get going. None of us wanted her leftovers.

After I left, I began to feel guilty involving Courtney. The dinner obviously made her uncomfortable and, I realized, from the way she picked at that casserole, went home starving. Plus, I began realizing how fruitless our efforts were. No one seemed to want to solve this murder. Courtney’s father deferred to the county sheriff. The county sheriff did not have the manpower to conduct a proper investigation since ours was the least populated and poorest county in the state, so he hoped either state or federal investigators would step in.

Courtney would stretch out her bike ride home, so I decided to see Cal and apologize about involving his daughter. I stopped by my house and filled a quart bottle with the rest of my leftover soup. While the soup simmered in the kitchen, I briefly told Courtney’s dad everything about the dinner and made my apologies. Cal knew his daughter well enough to express the opinion she would pursue her inquiries with or without my assistance. The sound of Courtney coming in the front door interrupted our conversation. Cal told me to wait in the kitchen.

“Hi, Dad, I’m home. And I’m not late either. The street light just now came on.”

“You’re cutting it a bit close, aren’t you?”

“Well, I had a good reason this time. Dinner took forever! You know how adults can talk about nothing for hours.”

“You always have a good reason, honey. That’s not the point. I worry when you run late, especially now that we have a murderer in town. You’d think Connors Station would be safer than the big cities.”

“It is, Dad, really. One murder in fifteen years? I don’t call that a crime wave.”

“Sit down, Courtney. And tell me how the dinner went. Were you a comfort to Mrs. Parker?” I heard the sarcasm in Cal’s voice, but if Courtney recognized it, she did not let on.

Maybe because he was a single parent, God gave Cal an extra ability to understand exactly what was going on with his daughter. He opened the door for confession, but how much would Courtney tell him? I hoped the whole truth.

“Dad, Mrs. Wilson was there, too. We are working together to find out more about Nancy Parker and her reason for being in Connors Station.”

I took that as my cue to enter. Courtney did not seem surprised to see me, but gave me a conspiratorial grin. It took me only a moment to realize she had seen my car outside.

I repeated what I had expressed earlier for Courtney’s benefit. “I understand your concern Cal. I am terribly sorry I involved your daughter. I was way out of line.”

Courtney, bless her heart, did not to let me take all the blame.

“Mrs. Wilson is part of this whole thing. You should be thanking her. I could have been terribly traumatized, but she settled me down after I found the body. Actually, my visit to the Parkers might be called therapeutic.”

Cal laughed. “You’ve been watching too many television dramas.” Then he turned serious.

“Mrs. Wilson. I have no control over your life, but you may get encounter legal trouble if you involve yourself in this investigation. Your name was not even mentioned in the newspaper article. At this point few people know of your involvement and I would encourage you to let this go.” He deftly changed the subject. “Now, if you will get your soup, we can eat. Yes, Courtney, I know all about Franny Ferguson’s casseroles. And I have dessert – brownies with ice-cream.”

Courtney and her dad each ate a large bowl of soup and asked for more. They kept asking the brand and flavor of my soup and I kept changing the subject. They would be more likely to accept the answer after full and satisfied.

“Okay, Mrs. Wilson, what kind of soup was that?” Cal asked.

“Refrigerator soup.”

“What?” Cal and Courtney asked simultaneously.

“Refrigerator soup. You take the leftovers in the refrigerator and mix them together.”

“You have to be kidding. I don’t eat leftovers,” Cal said emphatically.

“Well, the trick is in combining things just right. I have only made one batch that tasted off. I mixed too many different things together and did not taste as I went because I got in a hurry. The important part is thinking about what you are adding and making sure it all fits together.”

“Almost like solving a mystery. You put facts and pieces of information together until it all fits,” Courtney observed.

“You are right. Like a puzzle. Each piece fits in just the right place. You add things and check out how it works. I guess puzzles, and cooking, and mysteries are all, in a way, the same.”

“Seems innocent enough when put that way,” Cal said. “Okay, you two; I can tell I am not able to stop you, Courtney. However, you must promise to work with Mrs. Wilson and you will keep me informed. And if anything gets scary – tastes off so to speak – you have to let me know right away.”

“Agreed,” I replied. Cal had surprised me by granting Courtney permission.

“Courtney?”

“Okay!” She responded with enthusiasm. Courtney asked to take her brownie and ice cream to her room, so she could use her computer. As we ate our dessert, Cal Connors and I made no further mention of recent events. We discussed the weather, minimal local gossip, and his daughter’s progress in school. Courtney, I learned, was an A+ student, frequently bored in school. His wife taught Courtney at home before her death the year Courtney entered kindergarten. An early reader, Courtney loved to communicate. She combined her love of history and language using social networks to maintain a select group of friends she collected from around the world. She wanted to know someone in every country on earth. Cal explained she was taking it slow, learning about each country before she moved on. She used missionaries for sources, a suggestion Cal made to guarantee a modicum of safety. I knew from the papers that she consistently won the spelling bee, which explained her adult vocabulary at times. Our Courtney was quite the young lady!

I knew Courtney left us alone purposely. Her implicit trust made me feel a pleasantly comforting responsibility for her.
 


Comments

03/04/2017 5:31am

You have an excellent choice of words for a mystery novel and I commend you for a job well done. Crime fiction novels are my favorite book genre. I have read a lot of this type of novels and you would exactly assess the thrill or the chilling effect the book might give through the choice of words. Well, aside from it, the story itself must be a blood racing one. It's a mystery novel, so you need your reader to be mystified and asking for more. To be honest, I got engrossed with your story. Good luck!

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She is watching you. Every day. I believe that so hard!

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Susan Box Mann, Writer