Mrs. Zanderfoil was a gracious, lovely, intelligent and very rich woman of a certain age. She was generous…even philanthropic…to a fault. As a long-time staff member in her palatial home, I never saw her act less than a real lady. There was a gentleness about her that seemed to require a respectful, simple kind of response.
The day of the famous burglary proved she was built of sturdier stuff than I had imagined. It all began when I served her mid-morning tea. As always, she held that expensive china cup with perfect ease and confidence. Being well bred and wise, she never blinked twice when those two smelly, scary looking men ambled in through the library’s open French doors--as if they had been invited to share her Darjeeling and Crumpets.
“Good morning, gentlemen,” she said, “I don’t believe we’ve met.”
I slipped into the kitchen to call the police, and then went back and pretended to be unaware of a developing situation.
“More tea, Ma’am? Oh, excuse me. I didn’t realize you had visitors.”
The two nasty looking fellows sat side by side on the yellow silk settee--a picture in contradiction if ever there was one.
“Yes, thank you, Millie. Our unexpected guests might also enjoy a cup.”
The one with a big scar on the side of his face, and most of his teeth missing, pulled off his knit cap as if caught off guard by her genteel behavior towards escapees from a prison work-detail. His skinny, bald cohort tapped one nervous hand on the sofa arm.
The glance Mrs. Zee sent in my direction seemed to be asking me to follow her lead.
With refined politeness she addressed the intrusive duo. “Now what is the business you have with me today?”
I knew it was nothing less than monkey business, but she seemed serene and oblivious.
Scarface cleared his throat. Baldy jabbed him in the ribs to remind him to get on with it. That was the jump-start he needed.
“What’s da matter wiccha, Lady? Don’t you never watch da news?”
She exhibited a cool and controlled demeanor…waiting for more. He fidgeted awhile and then put his cap back on and stood up.
“Me ‘n Lucky here has done flown da coop and we needs a few fancy doodads to git started.”
As soon as criminal number two rose from his precarious perch on the delicate couch, so did the lady of the house.
“In other words, Sir… you are telling me you want the expensive green emerald necklace my late husband inherited from his grandmother that is worth five million dollars?”
It’s one thing to be accommodating in the face of danger, but she was handing that lovely antique to them on the proverbial silver platter.
Lucky blustered a bit and threatened to shoot her. I didn’t see a gun, but his visibly indignant pal gave him a shove for being an ungrateful bully.
“Hey! Back off. Dis could be somebody’s grand-mudder. Cancha’ see she’s willin’ ta help us out?”
Her next move surprised me.
“Millie, you stay here while I retrieve the requested item.”
My mouth tried not to fall open. “Yes Ma’am.”
She returned with the familiar looking case and opened it only long enough to show the rocks nestled perfectly in the custom designed place. Just as she slammed the lid shut the sound of approaching sirens prompted a quick exit decision for Goofy and Goofier.
Lucky grabbed the elegant box and they sprinted out the French doors toward the woods.
While my iron-fist-in-a-velvet-glove employer went to answer the bell and point the local constabulary to the path of the fleeing bad guys, I fixed both of us a fresh cup of tea.
I had to ask, “Why did you give such a valuable heirloom to those jokers?”
“Dear Millie,” she giggled, “It was all a ruse. I gave them the green candy necklace my great-granddaughter made for me. One more second and they would have noticed the soft, transparent, gummy concoctions were not emeralds.”
On the evening news, a blasé anchor person made it sound like a big joke. “Would-be thieves were foiled by an elderly woman around noon today. Barney ‘Scarface’ Belfrie and Leroy ‘Lucky’ Leonie were caught with sticky fingers…but no loot. Turns out they got hungry and ate it.”
The camera zoomed in on their faces. Courageous, sensitive Mrs. Zee whispered: “Oh dear me, I believe that ill-mannered Mr. Lucky is crying.”
Moral: Looks can be deceiving.
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