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Kathleen and Bernice were not too happy to find that Lucille had made another date with Shorty for all of them. “Lucille, we will go out to breakfast with him, then lunch and dinner will be on our own. Please,” said Kathleen.
Bernice agreed wholeheartedly. “But Shorty is decreasing our expenses for us.” She giggled. “But I’m with Kathleen. I thought this was a trip for three girls, three old friends. The three mouseketeers--and now we have three mice and a rat.” Lucille took offense at that for her new friend and told her so. Bernice apologized.
The girls sat around the small table in their room for a game of Rummy before going to bed. They decided that after breakfast, they would spend some time on the beach and after lunch would shop around the quaint little shops. When all three girls were ready for bed and Lucille had all her make-up off, they crawled into their beds. Kathleen read a scripture and prayed, and they turned out the lights.
Following breakfast with Shorty, the girls were preparing for the beach. They agreed that the café was quaint and the food was delicious. It deserved another visit next week perhaps. Kathleen came out of the bathroom with her black bathing suit on and complained about the fit. “I ate too much breakfast. Maybe when I am buying my own meals I will cut back a little. I tend to be a little frugal when I am paying for my own meals.” She chuckled as she put on her cover-up and flip-flops. She packed her beach bag as Lucille was changing. Bernice closed her cell phone and reported that her daughter Bethany was fine and so were the kids.
“Bethany told me to be very careful about talking to strange men. In addition, she said to keep a tight rein on Aunt Lucille. She knows her well.”
Lucille walked out of the bathroom in her bright purple suit with a flounced skirt. “She knows who well?” she asked as she had only heard the last part of the conversation.
“Bethany said to keep a tight rein on you around strange men. I didn’t tell her you had already found a strange one.”
Lucille grabbed her purple and white striped beach robe and her white hat off her bed, slipped into her flip-flops and said, “Let’s hit it, girls.”
The three friends had not been on the beach more than fifteen minutes when Kathleen groaned, “He’s here.”
Lucille sat up quickly and called, “Shorty! Over here, hon. I saved you a lounge chair. Are you going to hit the waves or lie in the sun first?”
“I want to hear some more of Katie-did’s story. She has me hooked. If I am ever in trouble I want her on my side.” Shorty laid out his large beach towel, sat down and began applying lotion on his face and arms. Kathleen mouthed, “Katie-did” to Bernice and made a face.
Kathleen rolled over, sat up, and sighed loudly. “Okay.” She looked at Shorty who now had Lucille smearing suntan oil on his hairy back. “I was waiting for the police to go check out the blue van in the Bailey garage. Apparently, Caleb had a couple of days off, so he waited until his return. In the meantime, life went on at seminary. We had a choir recital that Thursday night. As I stood in the front row of the choir and sang, I noticed Bruce Bailey and his little ole’ mama sitting in the third pew. She pointed her little skinny, crooked finger at me and whispered to Bruce. I knew she recognized me as the girl sneaking around her garage. Oh how I wished I could have been in the back row hiding behind the tall girls. No such luck.”
“The next day Bruce had Molly the clerk call me to come to the business office to clear up a financial situation. When I got there, she shrugged her shoulders when I asked what the problem was. She whispered that Bruce had a burr under his saddle over something. She buzzed his phone and told him I had arrived. She pointed for me to go on in. ‘Good luck,’ she whispered, lifting her eyebrows.”
“Bruce told me to sit down in the chair beside his desk. He shuffled some papers as if he were looking for something. Then he looked at me and said gruffly, ‘Miss Keller, we don’t seem to have a record that you paid your tuition this semester. It may be an oversight on your part, but it needs to be paid today or you will be dismissed.’ He looked at me sternly over his horn-rims.”
“I said, ‘Mr. Bailey, I paid my tuition and I have a receipt in my room. I can bring it over to Molly later.’”
“‘Leave Molly out of this. I’ll come to your room to see the receipt later this afternoon.’”
“I told him, ‘No, I said I’d bring it to the office later. Also, sir, I don‘t think you have the authority to threaten to dismiss me from seminary.’”
“‘Well, see that you do bring it in,’ he stood up to dismiss me. ‘By the way, how are you coming at finding your boyfriend’s killer?’”
“I answered that I had not given up on helping the police find the person. I left his office and shut the door behind me. I stopped at Molly’s desk and told her what he said.”
“‘Why, honey, I remember you bringing in your check. I don’t know what he is talking about,’ she said. ‘Well, bring in the receipt and I’ll make a copy of it for him. I’m leaving early today, so try to get back by three-thirty.’”
“At three p.m. I heard a knock on my dorm room door. I did not keep it locked during the day, so I said, ‘come in’. Bruce came in with a bouquet of roses. To make a long story short, he gave me a shifty smile and pulled back his jacket so I could see a gun in his belt. He said, ‘We are going out to dinner, Miss Keller. We are going to walk out this door and you will carry these flowers and act delighted to be with me. If we see anyone, say hello and keep walking. I will shoot you, you nosy witch. Why couldn’t you let well enough alone? Let’s go.’”
“I started to pick up my purse and he told me to drop it. I did drop it and spilled the contents out on the floor. ‘Mr. Bailey, I don’t think you are supposed to carry a gun on campus,’ I said.”
“He told me to shut my mouth. He had his arm around me as we walked to his old white Buick that was a junker. He helped me in, waved at Frank the custodian who was bringing in the trashcans. Frank did not wave, but just looked at us with his hands on his hips as if he did not believe I would get in a car with weird Bailey.”
“He drove for nearly an hour until we went up a single-lane rutted road through a bunch of trees and underbrush. We came out at a ramshackle log cabin. His mama came out on the front stoop and waved at her baby boy. He came around and jerked me out of the car. When he got me inside, they tied me to an old kitchen chair.”
“I asked him why he was doing this. I tried to play as if I did not know he was guilty of Tyler‘s death. ‘Mr. Bailey, I don’t understand. I had my tuition receipt ready to bring to your office. Really I did. I paid my tuition.’”
“Mama Bailey laughed with a hoarse voice and told her son I was stupid. ‘Don’t you think I wouldn’t recognize you after catching you snooping around my garage? You know too much.’ So they had their dinner of tuna on crackers and warm cola. They gave me a metal cup of water, which I would not drink. It looked like water from the muddy creek behind the cabin. At night, they laid me on the floor with a blanket, still tied up. Anyway, I do not like thinking about that. Let’s change the subject,” said Kathleen. She stood up, took off her sunglasses and hat and headed for the waves. She did not want to think about those days any longer.
When the girls started packing up their beach bags, Shorty said, “Well, little ladies, I wish I could take you all out for lunch--”
Bernice interrupted him and said, “Oh,
no, we really couldn’t let you do that.”
“I wish I could take you to lunch, but I have a business lunch today. But there will be another chance,” he said as he stood up to accompany them back to the hotel lobby. They told him good-bye when they stepped out of the elevator on the sixth floor, as he continued up to the ninth floor.
While Lucille was getting herself ready in the bathroom, Bernice said in a whisper, “I am glad he had a business lunch. It is high time the three of us have some fun together. Where shall we go for lunch? I do want to see the Ringling mansion. It looks cloudy now, so this would be a good time to be inside.”
“Anyplace is fine for lunch and a mansion tour sounds good to me. Hopefully Lucille will agree,” said Kathleen as Lucille came out of the bathroom all dolled up again and proceeded to put on another pair of high-heeled sandals. “We were thinking about taking the Ringling mansion tour, so you may want to wear better walking shoes, dear.”
“That sounds like fun. Okay, I will go with my walking shoes. No sense having miserable, achy feet all afternoon.”
The afternoon was a delight for all three of them. They had not seen such opulence since they were at the mansions at Newport, Rhode Island two years before.
Bernice said, “How was it comfortable to live like that? Mr. and Mrs. Ringling did not even have any children to help fill it up. I guess they had to have lots of guests.”
“Well, they didn’t hang out there in their cut-off jeans and t-shirts,” said Kathleen with a chuckle. “I think it would have been an adventure to just be part of the housekeeping staff and enjoy the surroundings. I don’t think any of us will have to worry about owning a mansion like that, do you?”
Lucille said, “I guess not. But if it were a bed-and-breakfast I’d stay for a couple of nights.”
“Well, that might be fun,” they chimed in.
They drove back to their hotel and decided that after walking miles through the mansion and up and down hundreds of steps, they would eat in the hotel dining room.
“We can see who else is staying at our hotel. There could be some interesting guests, besides Shorty,” said Lucille. “I hope he had a good meeting today.”
Later in the evening as the friends were chatting and reading the dinner menu, Lucille squealed as someone put their hands over her eyes and said, “Guess who? Do you mind if I join you?” It was Shorty Alexander.
“Oh, Shorty, you scared me, hon. Sit down. I saved a spot for you right beside me.” Lucille winked at her girl friends.
“You don’t mind if I join you ladies, do you?”
Bernice and Kathleen said in unison, “Of course not.” When he wasn’t looking, Bernice crossed her eyes at Kathleen, who whispered to her, “We have to stop that or our eyes are going to freeze crossed like that.”
“Shorty, whatever happened to your eye? You have a shiner. Honey, does it hurt?” asked Lucille. Both friends looked at his face and noticed indeed that he had a black eye and he was trying to cover it with a little cover-up cream.
“I ran into a sign outside the restaurant where I had my lunch meeting today. It is nothing. I wasn’t watching where I was going and boom. I walked right into this metal sign. It will be all right in a few days. Don’t worry about me, Lucy,” he said as he patted her hand.
They placed their orders and then relaxed a moment looking around at the tastefully decorated room with forest green and cranberry accents. The china and crystal shone and the round mirrors the vases sat upon reflected the flowers. Very relaxing. Guests were talking, but it was a quiet room. They were enjoying themselves.
“Shorty, tell us about your business meeting. Did it go well?”
“Fine, fine. I don’t want to bore you with business. What I want to hear is more of Katie’s story of being kidnapped by that revolting little man and his mean mama.”
Kathleen thought that she might as well finish it and get it over and done. “Okay, here’s the rest of the story. The Baileys kept me tied up for three days except to go to the outhouse. Bruce went out a couple of times to get groceries. Mama Bailey harassed me while he was gone telling me what a catch her Brucie was and I was stupid to not want to date him. I agreed with her.
I told her that every young woman wanted a man her father’s age with white socks, tasseled loafers, plaid jackets, and a myriad of bow ties with a bad attitude who liked to tie up women with the help of his mother. Once she slapped me and told me to shut my mouth. I always have been a little mouthy when angry.”
“For three days I was wondering if anyone had reported me missing. My dorm room door was unlocked and my purse’s contents were on the floor, so if anyone looked they might guess I didn’t leave by choice. It was the weekend so there were no classes going on, so I wouldn’t be missed by classmates. But, someone had to be missing me. My friend who had taken me to spy on the Bailey’s garage lived across the hall from me. I knew that surely Carolyn had missed me. I was beginning to think that no one would find me; and those two crazy people would kill me and bury me under the cabin and my body would not be found. I spent much of the time praying and quoting scripture. I sang quietly so many praise songs and old hymns that my throat got raspy. Bruce finally told me to quit the singing because I was no Sandy Patti. I had to agree with him on that. They kept asking me if I had told anyone about the blue van in Mama’s garage. I lied repeatedly and said, ‘What van?’ It was frustrating them badly and I loved it. On the third day, they put the rag around my mouth because they were tired of hearing me sing and talk. I refused to cry. I was sure God would send someone to rescue me, well, I was telling myself that someone would come eventually.”
“On the third night Bruce and Mama were sharing a bottle of cheap wine sitting at the dilapidated table. He was getting maudlin and telling her he would like to marry me and then I could not be a witness against him. She said he was stupid because I could not be trusted. It was too late. They needed to dispose of the rubbish and go back home. He could drive the van down to the Ohio River and send it over the banks and get rid of the evidence. He could put me in the van and they‘d get rid of two problems at once.”
“That was about the time that the front door got kicked in. Bruce started to cry and Mama told him to shut up. She slapped him and told him to be a man. I could not see who had come into the cabin, but I felt someone untying my hands and taking the rag out of my mouth. Then he came around and untied my feet. It was the redheaded detective, Caleb. He pulled me to my feet and gave me a hug. He said, ‘You were not easy to find, Miss Keller.’”
“Two police officers came in with him and put the Baileys in handcuffs. The police escorted them out. Bruce actually said to the cops, ‘She is going to marry me, so you can’t ask her any questions.’ Can you believe the audacity of that worm?”
“Caleb proceeded to tell me that my friend Carolyn had reported me missing on Saturday afternoon. When Caleb got back to work, his first task was to go check out the blue van I had photographed for him. No one was home at Bruce’s house, or his mama’s house. He got a search warrant and went back to the garage. The van was identified because of the dent and they found old blood on it.
When Carolyn reported me missing, Caleb was worried. He went to campus and questioned folks on my floor of the dorm and some of the staff. Bruce had called in sick to the seminary. No one seemed to think much about it. When he talked to Frank the custodian, he got the clue he needed. Frank told him he was surprised to see me get in Mr. Bailey’s old white Buick with a bouquet of roses and I didn’t wave at him. He said I did not look happy. He didn’t understand why I would go out with Bailey, but there was no accounting for taste. But he thought I had better taste.”
“The police were watching the Bailey’s neighborhood; they searched both houses, but did not find me. A detective found after much digging in the courthouse records that the Baileys owned some property down by the river. The property belonged to Magnolia Maelene Morrison, Mama’s maiden name. There are not too many women named Magnolia Maelene. The woman who found that information was a smart detective. So they searched the area and finally found the cabin.”
Lucille said, “Kathleen was the big heroine at the seminary. She had helped solve the mystery of the death of her fiancé. She could have been killed in the process. Nevertheless, she did it. She had her picture in the paper and was interviewed by newspapers in the surrounding area, and was interviewed by the Columbus television reporters. We are so proud of her.”
“Perfect timing,” said Kathleen. “Our meal is here. Let’s talk about something less stressful. Umm, this chicken smells delicious.” They all agreed that the meals were great.
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