Officer Ron Rumble took a gulp of thick, black coffee from a paper cup then leaned his free hand against the two-way mirror of the interrogation room. Behind the glass sat his top suspects in a recent school burglary.
He turned to his young protégé. “This is my favorite part of an investigation.” Rumble removed the stir stick from his empty cup, crumpled the cup in his massive hand, then tossed the wad over his shoulder.
Peter McPhail’s eyes followed the trash as it landed directly in the wastebasket. He pushed his thick glasses back up on his large nose then returned his attention to his spiral notebook. He wanted to record every word his mentor uttered.
Rumble licked his moustache and tasted sweet donut crumbs. “Put the suspects together for a while, and it’s amazing what you can learn.”
Peter nodded his head in agreement as her scribbled furiously.
Rumble motioned toward the suspects. “One of those clowns stole money from the Central High library. Describe who you see in there.”
Peter looked up from his notes and swallowed nervously. “Well, um, I see three adults and a teenager.”
Rumble stuck the stir stick in his mouth. “Look at the dame on the end. What can you tell me about her?”
The tall, thin lady sat with her hands folded neatly in her lap. Her back was straight, and her beady black eyes shifted continually around the room. She looked uncomfortable in the setting. “She doesn’t look like a criminal, but she does look nervous,” Peter offered hesitantly.
“They don’t usually wear an ‘I’m a criminal’ sign. And even the innocent can seem nervous when they’re suspects. Her name’s Rhonda Bookman. She’s the school librarian. Next?”
Peter exhaled then observed the man beside her. He was wearing a brown jumper with the name “Jorge” sewn on the label under the words “Central High School.” His salt and pepper hair needed a trim, and he wore a tool belt around his waist. “Is he the school maintenance man?”
“Bingo, Einstein.” Rumble faced Peter, the stir stick hanging loosely on his bottom lip. “Keep going.”
Peter’s gaze moved to the next suspect. “She looks like a...mother?”
“The practical hair cut, full purse, comfortable shoes. And the photo button of the student soccer player on her shirt.”
“You’re catching on, kid. What about the boy?”
“He looks like a typical teen. He’s got the clothes, the attitude, the hair.”
“My investigation’s narrowed it down to these four. They had access to the library, and they don’t have an alibi. Let’s listen in.” Rumple pressed the intercom button, and voices squeaked out of the speaker.
“This is a waste,” The teen said as he leaned his metal chair back on two legs. “They ain’t got nothin’ on me.”
“They don’t have anything on me,” Miss Bookman, the librarian, corrected.
“Whatever,” he said, leaning his chair back even further.
“You’re gonna break that chair,” Jorge said.
“And?” the teen questioned.
“And someone like me will have to fix it.”
The ‘mom’ said nothing but wiped her weepy eyes.
Suddenly Rumble turned off the speaker and hurried to his desk. He dug through the piles of files, spilling candy wrappers, empty coke bottles, and phone messages as he searched. “Here!” he said triumphantly as he opened a worn manila folder. “I knew something was familiar.”
“A lead?” Peter asked in astonishment.
“More than that. I know who did it.”
Peter scratched his head as he looked over his notes. “How?”
“Well, they all look like who they claim to be, but their actions gave them away. The teen acted like a typical sixteen-year-old with a bad attitude. ”
“The librarian corrected his English just as most educators would. Jorge was concerned about the chair. Again, right in character. But the mother–“
“She didn’t say anything,” Peter interrupted, puzzled.
“Exactly. Every mother I know would have told the boy to ‘Be careful’ when he leaned back in that chair. Her lack of concern gave her away. Then I remembered a cold case.” He handed the open file to Peter.
Peter looked from the picture in the file to the ‘mother’ in disbelief. “I can’t believe she’s the same person. In the picture, she looks more like a saloon girl than a soccer mom.”
“Her real name’s Bambi Birdwell. She’s gone by many names, many personas.”
Peter patted his hero proudly on the back. “But her charade didn’t fool you.”
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