Maxwell’s – final excerpt … for 2014

I didn’t want to rule out further excerpts completely but I think I’ve about wrapped up Charlie’s story.  I spent some time this past weekend working through a hard copy with a red pen.  I didn’t make it all the way through but managed what I considered some decent progress.  Once I finish that initial read-through and revision I’m going to be trolling for beta readers.  (That’s the term, right?  Beta?  Someone who will read and provide feedback?)

Until that time, here’s a little more of Charlie’s story for those of you who have been following along.  Thanks for reading.

Jeff put the phone down and groaned.  He had hoped he could close up and head home for the night, pick up the Minnelli investigation in the morning.  But a quiet evening at home wasn’t meant to be.  Standing up, he put a fresh notebook in the pocket of his jacket, grabbed his hat on the way out of his office and locked up. 

Hazel’s was close enough he didn’t have to drive but since it was after dark the temperature had dropped some so he took the Jeep anyway.  He’d be headed home from there and it would save him a walk back.  Parking in the first available space, he went inside. 

“Hey Maggie,” he greeted the waitress, touching the brim of his hat in her direction.  He crossed to the booth where Luke and another, older man sat.  “Tyler.”

“Hello Jeff,” Luke said.  He nodded toward the other man.  “This is my client, Leo Delaney.”

Jeff held out his hand and the other man took it, shaking firmly.  “Sheriff,” Leo said.

“Call me Jeff,” the Sheriff said.  “We’re on the informal side around here.”

“Then I’m Leo,” the older man replied.  “Please, have a seat.”

Jeff slid into the booth opposite Luke, removing his hat and setting it aside.  He pulled the notebook from his pocket along with a pen. 

“So Luke tells me you have information I should hear.”

“I think you might find it of interest,” Leo said.  He put the last piece of steak in his mouth and chewed it slowly.  Then he drank the last of his beer and set the glass on his empty plate.  “Your ‘Blockhead’ as you call him, is probably Carlo Dante.”

“Car…, wait, isn’t that one of the shooters Jack testified against?”

“It is,” Leo nodded.  “The reluctant partner of Tony Minnelli.”

“And you think he’s here in Manning and shot Joey Minnelli?” Jeff was confused.  “Why would he shoot his partner’s brother?”

“Because he lost everything while he was in prison Jeff.”

“But wouldn’t that make him want to kill Jack?”  Jeff was scribbling notes as fast as he could.

“You would think so, wouldn’t you?”  Leo took a drink of water.  “However, when Jack ditched me a few months back I started looking into the old case to see if I could figure out what Jack was trying to protect me from.  What I found out surprised me.”

“Are you planning to share it with us old man, or just tease us?” Luke asked, straight faced. 

“Well not if you keep that shit up,” Leo replied, hiding a smile.

“Could you tell just me then?” Jeff asked politely. 

“Of course,” Leo answered, just as politely.  “Don’t let us worry you Jeff; Luke and I mix it up all the time.  He forgets I can beat the hell out of him any time I want to.”

“In your dreams Leo,” Luke said, but he was grinning and Jeff relaxed. 

“So, please go on,” the Sheriff invited.

“Back when Tony persuaded Carlo to go along with him on the DeFranco hit, Vinnie Minnelli, the Godfather was in peace talks with Gino DeFranco.”  Leo could see that Jeff was lost.

“The Minnellis and the DeFrancos were enemies, much like the Capulets and Montagues from Romeo and Juliet,” he explained.  When Jeff nodded, Leo went on.  “Vinnie was tired of the bloodshed and afraid for his daughters.  He reached out to Gino DeFranco with a peace proposal and Gino bit.

“They were negotiating the terms, dividing up territories, et cetera when Tony, who hated the idea of peace between the families, decided to throw a wrench in the plan.  He persuaded Carlo Dante to go with him to take out several of the DeFrancos.”

“You said Dante was reluctant?” Jeff asked.

“Dante has a reputation for being slow,” Leo explained.  “Could be he was mentally impaired, could be he had an undiagnosed learning disability, could be he got hit in the head once too many times.  I don’t suppose we’ll ever know for sure.  But as a result he was easily manipulated, and Tony had always been there for him so he would follow Tony almost without question.”

“Almost?”  Jeff looked up from his notebook.

“Yeah, almost.  Apparently when Tony told him what they were going to do, Carlo balked.  He liked the idea of peace.  He was newly married with one kid and another on the way.  The prospect of peace between the families was like a dream to him.”

“Then why did he go with Tony?” Jeff asked.

“Tony convinced him that Vinnie planned to install DeFrancos in the family business,” Leo said.  “And that he – Carlo – would have no way to support his family.  Dante wasn’t a member of the Minnelli Family, he was what might be called a ‘hanger on’.  The Family owed him no loyalty and Tony persuaded him that with a peace there’d be no place for him.”

“That would mess with a guy’s head,” Luke said. 

“Which was what Tony wanted,” Leo replied.  “Carlo never would have been in that park otherwise.

“And you think the guy who shot Joey Minnelli is Carlo Dante?”  Jeff stopped scrawling notes and looked at Leo.

“Almost certainly from the description you have.”

“But I still don’t understand why he would be after Joey?”

“As I said, while he was in prison Dante lost everything.  His wife died in childbirth.  His children want nothing to do with him.  He has terminal cancer now, which is why he was released late last year.

“And he holds his partner responsible,” Jeff muttered, connecting the dots, “So he went after Joey because Tony’s still in prison and he couldn’t get to him.”

“That’s my theory,” Leo agreed, nodding.  “And I think my theory’s accurate except for one thing.”

“Here’s where I get to catch up,” Luke said, leaning forward.  He glanced at Jeff who was looking up curious.  “He wouldn’t tell me this next part till you came.”

“Except for what one thing?” Jeff asked, meeting Leo’s gaze.

“Except that Tony Minnelli was released from prison last week.”

Too bad about the vodka

A while back my buddy Indian Macgyver over at Chic Prune posted a wonderful photo he’d taken with his phone for a minimalist challenge.  The photo was beautiful but it was his comment about a teeny vodka bottle not being included with the dolls that led to our exchange in the comments which in turn led to this post.  So, go check out his photo and the comments.  Then come on back here and read the story it inspired.  Happy weekend everyone!

Victor stumbled into the dim living room, barely missing the body curled into a fetal position near the end of the sofa.  Damn, his head was splitting.  He should call out sick, he thought.  Then a gauzy shred of sanity hit him and he remembered today was the office holiday party.  Victor had been waiting months to give his boss the gift to top all other gifts. He had to go to work, hangover or not.  What on earth had possessed him to drink all that Scotch?!

After avoiding at least two other lumps on his floor, Victor made it to the kitchen and on autopilot started the coffee maker.  Victor couldn’t see the sunrise because it was overcast but, looking out the kitchen window he also did not see the lacy mist gracefully draping the tree limbs in the backyard.  His head was filled with too much crap to notice the peaceful beauty.  Hell, the party had just started getting interesting at midnight.  What the hell time did he finally get to bed?

Victor opened the cupboard door but there were no mugs on the shelf.  He checked the dishwasher which was empty.  Perfect, he grimaced.  Looking around the kitchen he realized there were dishes stacked on every available surface and overflowing one of the sinks.  How had he missed that on his way in?  And just how many people had been in his house?  Grabbing a mug from a nearby pile he squirted in dishwashing soap and stuck it under the tap to add hot water.  After giving it a good wash he rinsed it carefully and reached for a paper towel.  The roll was as empty as the cupboard.  Victor practiced deep breathing for a few moments, then wiped the cup on his tee shirt.

He reached into the refrigerator to get cream and cringed.  Where had that come from?  Shuddering, he grabbed the quart of half and half and slammed the fridge door.  Victor checked the date on the dairy container and sniffed experimentally.  The cream appeared safe to ingest so he splashed some into the clean cup and set the container aside.  Pouring coffee into the cream served to mix the two well enough he wouldn’t have to hunt for a clean spoon.  When the cup was filled to the brim he set the carafe back on the warmer before lifting the cup very slowly to sip hot, aromatic nectar.

“God I needed that,” he muttered to himself.

“What?” Connie asked as she entered the kitchen.  She wore a camisole with a pair of his boxers hanging low on her hips and he noticed they looked a lot better on her.

“What?” Victor asked, his head still a bit fuzzy.

“You said you needed something,” she replied.  “What did you need?”

“Coffee.”  He took another sip.  “I need coffee.”

“Me too.”  The black-haired beauty went to the cupboard and before Victor could say anything she opened the door and pulled down a cup.

“What the hell?  Where was that?”

“Where was what?” Connie asked, moving to the coffee maker.

“I just checked that cabinet and there weren’t any cups.”

“Are you sure?” she furrowed her brow, giving him a concerned look over her shoulder.  Turning back she poured coffee and lifted the cup to take a drink.

“Of course I’m sure,” Victor growled.  I had to wash my cup because there weren’t any clean.”

“Maybe you just missed this one,” she replied, turning to lean against the counter.  Taking another drink she let her blue gaze circle the room.  “What a mess.”

“That’s putting it mildly,” he commented, nodding.  “I was just wondering how it got so out of control.”

“Well let me think,” Connie began with a slow smile.  “Take a house full of young people, loud music and add alcohol.”  She shrugged.  “I think it was destined to be out of control from the beginning.  At least the neighbors didn’t call the police.”

Victor thought she’d explained it succinctly and he was extremely grateful the neighbors had decided to join the party rather than complaining.  But something, some thing kept niggling at his mind.  What was it he was trying to think of?

“Victor?” Connie raised her voice.  “Victor, are you okay?”

“What?  Oh, yeah.  Just trying to figure out what it is I’m missing.”

“Missing?  Is something gone?  How can you tell?”  She caught his eye and winked, grinning wickedly.

“Ha ha, very funny.”  Victor looked around the room again, hoping the elusive memory would surface.  “I’m serious Connie.  There’s something not quite right; something I’m forgetting.”

“Well I’m sure it will come to you,” she replied.  “Can I grab a shower before I head out?”

“Go ahead.  Use the guest bath and be sure to lock the bathroom door.  A few of the mooches who drank all my booze stayed over and you don’t want anyone wandering in while you’re wet and naked.”  Whoa, he thought, hiding behind his coffee cup.  Did I say that out loud?

She gave him the eyebrow waggle.  “Oh don’t I?”  Victor looked shocked for about a second and then he was laughing out loud.  Connie grinned impishly at him as she topped off her coffee.  “Don’t worry, I’ll lock the door; there was only one guy at the party I had any interest in and he didn’t know I was alive.”

“Oh yeah?  Who was that?” Victor was interested.  He’d known Connie for years and during that time she’d never seemed to stay long with any one man.

“That’s my secret,” she said over her shoulder as she left the room.

Alone again, Victor’s mind went back to what was missing.  Connie was right, he mused.  How in the hell can I tell anything is missing?  If it’s actually a real thing and not only a thought.  Geez.  He refilled his mug and after splashing a bit more cream into it, he returned the carton to the refrigerator.  The party favor was still there damn it.  When Connie discovered a cup in the cabinet he’d already checked he had hoped the grisly offering in his fridge was a hallucination.  Putting that aside for the time being, Victor took a fortifying sip of coffee then put his cup out of the way and got started clearing party debris.

Fifteen minutes later, the dishwasher was full, and what wouldn’t fit was soaking in a sink of hot, soapy water.  Empty pizza boxes and Chinese carryout containers were stacked near the back door ready for the recycling bin.  Sponging off the kitchen table, Victor took a look around.  Not spotless, he thought but not embarrassing either.  He straightened, tossed the sponge into the soapy water and rested his hands on his hips.

“What is it I’m forgetting?” he wondered.

“Huh?”  The tall, grungy-looking blond stumbled into the kitchen looking a bit like death warmed over.

“Hey Stan,” Victor said.  “There’s still coffee if you want some.  You’ll have to wash a cup.”

“Cool,” Stan said.  “You got cream?”

“In the fridge.”  Victor watched as Stan washed and rinsed a cup.  He didn’t bother drying it, just filled it, then set it beside the coffee maker while he opened the fridge.  Victor didn’t warn him, waiting for Stan’s reaction.  “Hey, nice arm!”  Stan added cream to his cup, stirred the contents with his finger and put the cream back.  “I didn’t know Jerry was here last night.”

“Jerry?”  Victor raised his eyebrows.

“Jerry Garza, or Carson, or something.  He has a fake arm; I’ll bet that’s his.”

“Right.”  Victor rolled his eyes.  “Wait, what?  Fake arm?”  He opened the refrigerator door and looked inside.  Well damn, he thought.  Fake arm.

“Sure,” Stan said.  “What, did you think it was real?”  Stan laughed, choking on his coffee.

“In my defense,” Victor replied huffily, “I was still half asleep and hungover.”

“Uh huh,” Stan grinned.  “A likely story.  Hey, aren’t you going to work?”

Victor looked at the clock on the microwave and felt the kick in his stomach.  He was going to be late damn it.  There wasn’t even time for a shower and he still didn’t know what it was he was missing!

After a quick wash-up in the master bath, Victor threw on a dress shirt, khaki slacks and tucked a tie in his jacket pocket.  He ran a comb through his hair and went in search of his keys and phone.  The phone was plugged in where he usually left it so that wasn’t what he’d forgotten.  His keys were hanging on their peg just inside the front door, along with a few key rings he didn’t recognize.  Probably Stan’s and the other two lumps’ he thought.  Victor started to open the door and remembered again the party at work.  He snapped his fingers at the memory because that was what he was missing!  The boss’s gift – which would make him stand out above everyone else!

Victor did an about face and ran for the kitchen, jumping over one body and side-stepping the other.  He went directly to the cabinet above the refrigerator and opened the doors.  Inside was a beautiful, hand-blown cobalt blue and crystal bottle. The lovely blue bottle contained Ultimat, the only vodka in the world – so he’d been told – made from a blend of potato, wheat and rye.  The 750 ml bottle had cost him almost $150!  But Leonard Dearborn claimed to be an aficionado of fine alcohol and once Victor had learned that he had a soft spot for vodka, he knew what he was getting the boss for Christmas.

He reached overhead and carefully removed the bottle from the cabinet.  As he was bringing it down Victor noticed it felt different.  He looked closer and realized it had been opened.  What the fucking hell!?

“That was some fine wodka,” Stan said.  “I was shocked you wanted to share it.”

“I wanted to sha…what?  I didn’t open this!”  Angry and confused, Victor set the empty bottle on the kitchen table before he threw it at something.

“Oh yeah,” Connie added, coming in.  “You did.”

“But it was for Dearborn,” Victor said desperately.  “I wouldn’t drink his Christmas gift!”

“I don’t know what to tell you bro,” Stan replied.  “You said something about what a jackass your boss was and that he didn’t deserve it.  Which, I might add is completely true.”

“Stan,” Connie interrupted.  “There was more to it than that.  Victor was downing Scotch like it was water beforehand.  When we asked him what was up he started complaining about Dearborn making him work weekends through the end of the year.”

“Ah,” Stan nodded, remembering.  “That explains the week night party!”

“Hmm,” Victor said.  “I was wondering why I would throw a party on a Tuesday myself.  But I was planning on the Ultimat giving me an in with him; I wouldn’t drink it!”

“Sober maybe,” Connie said.  “But you were so far gone by then honey, you were practically passed out.”

“She’s right man,” Stan agreed.  “You pulled that bottle out and said ‘I’m going to drink until my internal organs start a revolution and leave.’”

“Oh god,” Victor groaned.  He remembered saying that and a lot more.  “What am I going to do now?”

Stan shrugged.  “No idea.  But Dearborn didn’t deserve it; I’m glad you drank it.”

“It would have been nice if I could remember what it tasted like though,” Victor said mournfully.  He’d never spent that much on alcohol before and he didn’t even get to enjoy it.

“For what it’s worth,” Connie replied.  “It was wonderful.”

“Thanks,” Victor smiled.  “So do I pick up some cheap vodka on the way to work or what?”

“Wait!” Stan said.  “Wait, I’ve got it!”  He disappeared through the kitchen door and they heard a thud and a groan, then Stan hollered back, “I’m oh-kay.”  There was the sound of glass clinking and a door closed.

A few seconds later Stan was back and he was holding an unopened bottle of Smirnoff Vodka.

Victor looked from the bottle to his friend’s face.  “What?  You want me to give him my Smirnoff?”

“Yes,” Stan said.

“Yes!” Connie nodded, realizing what Stan was getting at.  She took the Smirnoff from him and twisted off the lid.

“Great,” Victor said.  “Now how do I give that to him?”

“Watch and learn oh Slow One.”  Stan and Connie shared a grin over that.  Then Stan took the crystal and cork stopper out of the Ultimat bottle and set it safely on the counter.  This wouldn’t work if they broke the stopper.

While Stan held the Ultimat bottle securely, Connie carefully filled it with the Smirnoff.  Thankfully, the Smirnoff bottle was the same size so it completely filled the blue bottle.  Then Stan replaced the crystal and cork stopper.  He dug through Victor’s junk drawer and found a rubber mallet which Victor didn’t know he owned.  As Victor watched, fascinated, Stan tapped the stopper with the mallet, driving it in as far as it would go.

“But aren’t these bottles sealed?” Victor asked them.

“Got me,” Stan said.  “But I didn’t notice any kind of wrapper when you opened it last night.”

“And according to you, Dearborn’s a tightwad,” Connie added.  “I doubt he’s ever shelled out $150 for a bottle of this so how would he know?”

Nodding, Victor looked from one to the other of his friends.  “You guys rock!  How can I thank you?”

“You’re welcome.  Now get out of here, you’re already late.” Connie said, smiling.

“Right!  Thanks again, lock up when you leave, okay?”  Carrying the blue bottle in both hands, Victor headed for the door.

“Hey Vic.”  Victor stopped, looking over his shoulder with raised eyebrows.  Stan finished, “Too bad about the vodka.”

Ultimat Vodka - 2

Time for another excerpt

Thirteen thousand six hundred fifty nine words!  Here’s another excerpt for your perusal and comment if you feel so moved.

At his desk, the Sheriff pored over the notes he’d complied on the murder investigation. It made no sense. What was a complete stranger doing in Charlie’s office? It was obvious, at least to Jeff, that Joseph Minnelli was anything but a tourist. His clothing alone gave that away. Who would believe the guy in the designer suit was here to visit the arboretum or the naval museum?

Jeff heard the bell ring as the outside door opened into the reception area. He listened as Mandy pushed back her desk chair and crossed to the taller counter which spanned the width of the room except for the swinging gate at one end. It was remarkably like the gates you might see in an old courtroom where the witnesses would push through on their way to take the stand. In fact, it had been recovered form the old courthouse before it was torn down several years previously. Jeff liked the connection between the old and the new.

In the outer office he heard Mandy ask how she could help the visitor and then he heard Luke’s voice. Even if he hadn’t heard Luke was in town he’d have recognized that voice. It had echoed in enough of his teenage nightmares, he recalled with a touch of the old self-disgust. Jeff started to stand intending to… what exactly? Staying in his chair, he rubbed his hand over his face. Am I really going to go punch him in the face because he was with Carolyn before me?   God, am I losing it or what? He dropped his head into his hands for a moment and there was a tap on his door.

“Jeff?” Mandy slipped into his office, closing the door behind her. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, just having a little argument with myself,” he smiled. “What’s Luke want?”

“He has information on the murder victim he thinks you might find helpful.”

“Oh really?” Jeff smiled. “Well send him in then. Is there any coffee left in that pot?”

“Well yeah, but it’s from three hours ago.”

“Perfect.”

“What? I can make a fresh pot…”

“Sure, make a fresh pot but bring Luke a cup of the old pot first please.” His eyes fairly twinkled with the anticipation of watching Luke take a polite sip. Who said he was a goody two shoes!

Jeff stood up, might as well take every advantage he could. Being a few inches taller than Luke might seem like a small thing but it made him feel better. He squared the pile of paper on his desk and looked up to watch Luke enter. Luke tried on a grin, holding out his hand.

“Jeff, nice to see you though I wish it was under better circumstances.”

“We can agree on that,” Jeff nodded. He indicated the visitor’s chair with a tilt of his head and took his own seat. Mandy came in and set a chipped china mug on the corner of Jeff’s desk near Luke.

“Thank you,” Luke smiled pleasantly at her. Picking up the mug he took a healthy drink and manfully tried not to let it show on his face that the coffee was awful.

Jeff raised his brows. “Everything okay Luke?” He watched as Luke forced himself to swallow the sludge. He had to hand it to the guy, the smile faltered just a tad but it stayed in place. Jeff relented in spite of himself.

“Fine,” Luke got out. “Coffee’s a bit stronger than I’m used to.”

“Ah, well we can fix that.” Turning to Mandy, Jeff smiled. “Will you start a fresh pot please?”

Mandy, bless her, got it. She gave him back a smile and nodded. “Sure thing Sheriff.” Mandy exited the office, drawing the door closed behind her.

Returning his attention to Luke, Jeff pulled over a notebook and pen. “Mandy said you had some information about Joseph Minnelli?”

“Yeah. First, he goes or he went by Joey. He was the second son of Alfredo Minnelli. Minnelli was a crime boss in New Jersey a few decades back.”

“Do you have any idea what Joey was doing in Manning?”

Luke hesitated and Jeff studied him. “What is it Tyler?”

“I think he was looking for Charlie’s father,” Luke’s shoulders slumped for a moment, as if all the air had gone out of him.

“Charlie’s father? Who has been gone for over 30 years?”

Luke nodded. “I know it sounds crazy. Actually I’m in town looking for Jack too. Or at least some sign of where he might be.”

Jeff tossed down the pen and leaned back in his chair. “So 30 plus years later you, and presumably Joey Minnelli come looking for a man who walked out on his family. Luke, what’s wrong with this picture?”

“Look, I realize how it sounds. I can fill you in on the background if you’ll give me a few minutes.”

Spreading his hands wide, Jeff met his eyes. “I’m all yours; I can’t wait to hear this.”

Summertime Blues

No one in the neighborhood had seen Mrs. Pauley’s sons since the funeral three months earlier.  No one was very surprised either.  I’d heard Mama talking to Ruthie next door while hanging the laundry about what a shame it was.  I didn’t really understand why it was a shame.  Now her sons – they should be ashamed.  At least that’s what Ruthie said.

Bright and early that first day of summer vacation I crossed the street and knocked on Mrs. Pauley’s door.  I was hoping she’d let me mow her yard today rather than wait for Saturday.  Danny said his dad was talking about a camping trip over the weekend and I wanted to be able to go along.

Mrs. Pauley opened the door, smiling when she saw me.  But she looked different somehow, sort of shrunken.

“Hello Timothy, is it Saturday already?” Her voice was as pleasant as always though and I quickly forgot my first impression.

“Aw Mrs. P, you know it’s Wednesday,” I joked back.

We chatted a bit and I explained my request.

“Of course you can mow the yard early; we can’t have you missing out on a camping trip!”  Her eyes got this faraway look they sometimes did when we talked.  “My Benny loved the outdoors too,” her voice faded away on that thought.  Then she gave herself sort of a shake and she looked back at me.

“I’ll have your lemonade in the kitchen when you’re ready for a break.”

“Thanks!”  I ran around to her tool shed to get started.

When I was finished mowing and edging her lawn I went inside and we shared some lemonade – the real stuff, not the mixed kind.  Mrs. Pauley had also baked some fresh ginger snaps.  We munched a couple of those and when I was leaving she handed me her cookie jar.

“Take these on home for your little brother and sister,” she instructed.  “Be careful with the jar now. Your mama always loved that jar.”

It seemed odd to take her cookie jar when she usually just gave me a zipped plastic bag but I knew better than to argue with her.  Mama wouldn’t like it.  And I really wanted to go camping.

At home I placed the cookie jar on the kitchen counter, pausing to grab one more since Mama wasn’t around.  After shouting upstairs that I was going to Danny’s, I went out the back door cringing, when the screen slammed.  That was going to cost me later, but it was the first day of summer vacation and freedom called.

Hours later I rode my bike into the front yard, dropped it on its side and ran indoors.  After grabbing a cold soda I went back out to sit in the late afternoon sun.  It had been a great first day of summer!  And Danny’s father was going to call my folks tonight to get permission for me to go with them to the lake!  Life couldn’t get much better as far as I was concerned.

I was trying to picture the campsite and lake when the black and white patrol car pulled up to the curb in front of Mrs. Pauley’s house.  A moment later another car, this one a fancy new model, pulled into Mrs. Pauley’s driveway and a man got out.  Something about his expression made my stomach hurt.  It wasn’t that he looked evil.  I don’t know how to describe it really.  Oh, wait – he looked like he wasn’t there.  His eyes were empty and his smile looked like it hurt.

Two policemen stepped out of the patrol car and joined the man in the driveway.  They talked together for a short time and then moved toward Mrs. Pauley’s front door where the man knocked.

When the door opened I expected Mrs. Pauley to smile as she always did when she welcomed people.  But Mrs. Pauley wasn’t smiling; there were tears on her face.  She listened while the man spoke, nodding the way you do when you’re trying to be polite, and all the time the tears continued to fall.

Mrs. Pauley nodded one last time and I saw her say something before closing the door.  The three men started to turn and I thought at first they were leaving, but they stood near the porch rail waiting.  A few minutes later the door opened again and Mrs. Pauley came out.  She was wearing her good cardigan, carrying her good winter coat and pulling along one of those rolling suitcases.

The hurt in my stomach got worse.  What the heck was going on?  I was suddenly afraid and before I could think about what I was doing I jumped up and ran across the street.

“Mrs. Pauley, can I help you with that bag?” I asked, ignoring the men.

She kept walking slowly toward the patrol car and I walked beside her.

“Why thank you Timothy, but I have it.” Her voice was only slightly raspy from the earlier tears.  “If you could do something else for me I’d be very grateful.”

“Anything Mrs. P,” I replied, eyeing the cop who had moved ahead to open the back door of the car.

“Tell your mother I said goodbye.”

“Goodbye?  When will you be back?”

“I won’t be coming back.”

“But why?  Where are you going?” The stomach ache was spreading; I could feel my eyes growing wet and I blinked hard.  I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of the men but something about this felt very, very wrong.

“Please just give my message to your mother Timothy.  She’ll explain everything.”

“I don’t want you to go!”

“And I don’t want to.  You know, I always hated it when my parents told me I’d understand something when I was grown up but sometimes it’s true.”  She paused, handing her suitcase to the other policeman, who loaded it into the opposite side of the car’s back seat.

“Timothy, go on home.  Tell your mother she can keep the cookie jar and that I said goodbye.  I’m sure she’ll explain it all.  I will miss you Tim.”  For a moment she placed her hand against my cheek and my tears came.  She smiled again and the cop helped her into the car.

None of the men had said a word.  The empty-eyed man climbed back in his shiny car, backed out of the driveway and sped off.  Both policemen looked after him and I got the impression they weren’t happy.  As they got into their car I watched Mrs. Pauley looking through the window.  When I followed her gaze I could see she was staring at her house and tears once again filled her eyes.