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SMARSHWORDS PUBLISHING

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OTHER BOOKS BY LISA SATPATHY

© Lisa Satpathy 2015 Typeset is: Arial

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Contents: Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven

Chapter One At the soft exhalation of Ema’s snore, round Harry Potter glasses started to slip. She shivered and gripped her stuffed unicorn even tighter as she drifted away into slep. Her mother Mrs. Kepler walked down the stairs and sighed. called up, “What’s the matter, Sweetie? Cat got your toungue?” “Ema didn’t like the story. She didn’t like it. You know th book I wrote.” “Huh, is that really?” He swirled the last contents of the coffee mug. “James?” She wrung the dish rag on the edge of the sink and turned to look at him sternly. “You’re acting like this isn’t important.” 4


“Sweetie, I got to get to work and maybe words mean more to you than they mean to me. I like your poems and them is pretty and all, but . . . I-” She sighed as he stood up and dumped the cup with the rest of the dirty dishes. “You have work. You’re gonna come home dirty and sweaty and a big goddamn mess I’m gonna have to clean up again-just like always. And you’re worried about the shipments and you ain’t got time for a wife whose gonna be--” “--a big published writer some day.” Mr. Kepler threw his arms around his wife and rocked her back and forth. His beard tickled the side of her ear. “You’re my Missus who I’m bringing the bacon home to. You’re the lady I married ‘cause I loved her more than all the other prisses. I wanted a woman who could think on her own, drive a truck, could be on her own, and do more. I got what I wanted. Exactly-without any expiration date I gotta worry about or fancy gifts to buy every week just to please her.” “Fancy gifts? I would like something simple-” “That’s my sweet girl. Sweet and simple, worth more than gold.” Mrs Kepler sighed as he kissed the back of her neck, then went to the closet and pulled on his work boots. “And you’re the perfect piece of man a girl could ever wish for.” He chuckled. “I ain’t no Einstein. I can’t spell worth a damn and don’t deserve a beautiful country wife whose smarter than the mayor.” “Oh listen. You with your flattery . . . ought to be-” “Locked up?” He kissed her at the mosquito screen door. She waited for him to start his rusty truck and back out before waving and shutting the door. He roared off into the night. The headlights growing smaller and smaller until they were completely out of sight. Mrs. Kepler leaned her head against the wall and stared at the wallflowers on the wallpaper. She went into her writing room and shut the door. She pulled up the chair and stared at the sheet of blank paper sitting on the typewriter. It was beautiful and ambitious. Honestly, how had she ever thought that she could even dream of writing a novel in the first place. Her published novel sat like a forgotten doll on her daughter’s nightstand. It was the fifth time she’s attempted to read it to her daughter. How would she be a worldwide bestseller, when her own daughter wasn’t interested in it? Mind the target audience was the children of the world. What did ​they want? She sat still for an hour, trying to think of something? Waiting . . . waiting for what? Inspiration. Something people would want to read. Something that would never come at this rate. She decided to switch gears and read. The gears on the chair screetched as she swiveled back to her bookshelf for appropriate reading material. Then she paused to scan her selection: ​Black Beauty​ [Erma was over her horse phase], T ​ ale of Despereaux​ [mice were revolting], ​Cat in the Hat​ [not in a rhyming, poetic type of piece], ​A Christmas Carol​ [not in the Christmas mood], ​The Book Thief​, ​A City in Winter​, ​Eragon​, ​Twilight​, ​Charlie and the Chocalate Factory​ . . .[no, no, definately not]. Then she sat and wondered as her eyes glued to the final volume on the shelf: ​Alice in Wonderland​. Alice? ​Alice in Wonderland​ by Lewis Carroll. The constantly challenged thrilling 5


adventure of a girl who went down the rabbit hole. Not that it had ever been a favorite of hers. Yes, she was farmiliar with the story, however, she didn’t like it very much. Her paperback copy though was worn and the pages were yellowing in age. Why didn’t she like it? Or did she even own this copy? Mrs. Kepler couldn’t even remember the last time she’d read the book; she couldn’t quote anything that particularly struck out at her. She replaced it back on the shelf and stared at it. She considered herself well-read, well-written, and well . . . being as a person who wrote scores and scores of pages an excellent writer. Better than Widow Worthrop who said she wrote romance novels while she was in the bath so people would talk to her in church and better than all the people who’d never written a novel in their life. She’d gotten over the initial obstacle. Yet . . . she couldn’t write a word more to cement herself as an excellent writer, a bestselling writer, or even someone worth reading. It wasn’t an excellent day or even something worth remembering. Mrs. Kepler was in a rut. She couldn’t think of any other goddamn word to write. Even the smallest slightest shiver of an idea evaded her. She felt empty and she was so tired of thinking or trying for something.

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Chapter 2

Mrs. Kepler sat down at her typewriter as the clock churned midnight. Her chair swung on its bones as she typed finally after a restless night: Everything happens for a reason, right? Then she sat and stared at the 5 words she’d thought of. Then she spun another story. Yet as she approached the second chapter . . . she couldn’t think of why the characters were where they were. Why was Clarissa eating French fries in France? There was absolutely nothing in the context or a plot to unfold. “MOM” Mrs. Kepler shot out of her reverie. “What is it Ermie?” “There isn’t any bubble bath for Ducky to take a bath in. Did you hide some somewhere so I couldn’t find it. Hide-and-seek for my noodle?” “No sweetie, we should have some in the linen closet. There should be a little at the bottom of the bottle.” “MOM! There isn’t enough for Ducky. I put water in it but it didn’t come out at all.” “Did you swirl it sweetcakes? I’m sure Ducky won’t mind if he doesn’t swim in bubbles for at least one day.” “MOM, no Ducky’s gonna have his bubbles today. If he doesn’t have his daily dose. He’s not going to be good enough for me to take a bath with. He’ll get sick, then I’ll get sick too and you’ll have to take me to the doctor’s office at the place with the sea monkeys. Then I’ll need to get a shot and Daddy will get real mad at the ladies giving me the shot cause-” Mrs. Kepler sighed heavily and left the words sitting on the typewriter as she walked up to the upstairs bathroom were Ermie sat in the midst of room full of bubbles. She was sudsy and clean as a whistle as water splooshed around the bathroom floor. 7


“MOMMY. You came! Ducky said you’d come if you knew the soap was almost gone.” Mrs. Kepler gasped. “Ermie this is a mess, you got water all over the floor and Ducky won’t be sick unless you’re the one making him sick from all those bubbles. You made a big mess.” “Well I’m . . . I am really sorry. Forgiven?” Mrs. Kepler hid a smile. “Ermie . . . try again” “Mommy I am sorry that I got the water in the floor on accident. Really it was a big accident when Ducky got the suds in the wrong place.” Mrs. Kepler sighed heavily. “Well Ermie why are you ttaking a bath so early in the morning aren’t you supposed to play with Ducky before you do nighty night?” “Yeah, but Ducky said we have something important to do today.” “Erma?” Mrs. Kepler put her hands on her hips and gazed at her sternly. “Mom really Ducky said we have to sud up before we go outside to talk to the princess ghost. She was gonna finish telling the story.” Mrs. Kepler turned slowly. “Story? What story?” “The story about the tulips. The princess of the ghosty people said you got it all wrong. There’s some stuff that you left out.” “Really?” “Mmmmm-hmmm the ghost princess said that you were trying too hard to please all the humans that you forgot that she was the one who whispered the story to you in the first place.” Mrs. Kepler opened her mouth to argue, then thought better of it. “Is that so? Maybe you should tell the princess that I’m sorry for being irresponsible for flinging away her facts. Maybe you could tell me what I got wrong.” “No . . . the princess doesn’t want that.” “What does she want? You to take a bath at six in the morning? You to take Sunstance the Unicorn with you to bike ride to the playground to get her all dirty?” Erma quieted down and started slashing in the soap studs. “She said you wouldn’t want to listen to me, ‘cause I’m just a little girl. She wants you to write another story about somebody else.” “Who?” Mrs. Kepler crept closer. She was becoming more and more interested. “She didn’t say. You’re supposed to figure it out. You know it already. Dhe left you a ghost message.” Mrs. Kepler sighed heavily. She wanted to drop her ‘Well Santa’s not real’ speech, but something in Erma’s eyes kept her playing along. “Well Ermie why don’t you clean up your mess; while Mommy’s gonna go finish writing? Okay, honey Mommy’s right here. You can dry yourself off, and Ducky too, then I’ll make pancakes.” Ermie nodded blowing a bubble kiss that Mrs. Kepler pretended to catch. She walked back into her writing room and left the door ajar. She lit colorful mason jars with scented candles strung up on the rafters of the angled ceiling with a match. The scents cooled her tangled thoughts so she could start to unravel them. It wasn’t an easy task. She stared at the miles and miles of ready to go paper canvas for her to write on, paint on, fill up with her art. Some artists yearned for a piece of beautiful canvas. Some writers for a fresh sheet of paper. She wondered what she would say to an interviewer: “Sometimes I just have miles of wide open 8


paper to explore. Yet I lack the stamina to venture out on the rims of my imagination.” It was perfect to say to the interviewer. When she got famous . . . If she could think of an idea that would want to be read by the children of the world. People who would read her pages and tell her how good she was. “MOM I NEED A TOWEL.” A target audience of Ermies needing a towel. Mrs. Kepler sighed as she rose again without having written anything. She blew out the candles and walked back up the stairs to towel dry her daughter. Then Erma demanded breakfast and a walk to the playground. They had the conversation over a plate of sticky pancakes with overdrizzled maple syrup. “Ermie . . . Mommy wants to finish writing her idea. Its like a bird; if she waits too long its gonna get tired of waiting for crumbs and fly away.” “Momma?” “What?” “Maybe I could play outside while you write inside. You can watch me from the open window. I swear that I won’t wander off or do anything that Sundance tells me to or Ducky tells me.” Mrs. Kepler thought for a moment. It was a tantalizing proposition; what she really needed was to get away from the typewriter and think for a while. The batter always practices before he plays the game. Who’d given her that advice? Nonetheless it would feel wonderful to stretch her legs and forget about the words dancing around on the precipice of her mind. Or even that the doors of her imagination remained stubbornly closed and her own daughter wasn’t interested in her work. “Do you know what, Ermie?” Erma’s eyes lit up. “LET’S GO SHOPPING!” Mrs. Kepler was taken aback by her daughter;s enthusiasm but laughed it off. Why not be overexcited to visit the village. Ermie sang the whole car ride to the village. It was an excruciating ten minutes. “The wheeeels on the bus goooo round and round; round and round; round and rounds; the wheeeeeeeeels go around and around like tiigers goin’ ta town.” Mrs. Kepler sighed in resignation. Maybe she should attempt to teach her daughter more nursery rhymes . . . yet it most likely would go in one ear and out the other. So the singing continued, punctuated by Mrs. Kepler’s long irritable sighs. They pulled into town and stopped at the vintage store aka the only store in the village of Goldren. The dank windows had a fishy smell. The owner was pinning a stuffed octopus to the ceiling of the aquatic display in his front window. His balding head was shiny and clean as well as his murky green clothing-a stiff white collared shirt, murky green vest and khaki pants. His sleeves were rolled open and his feet encased in old man sandals. He smiled with a mouthful of discolored fish teeth. As they got out of the car he went back to his post at the cash register. “Ewww Mommy what happened to the other lady?” Erma’s hand automatically clasp around her mother’s. She was half hidden from the shop keeper by hiding behind Mrs. Kepler. “Ermie that’s not polite. You shouldn’t say ‘Ewww’ when talking about someone you don’t know. 9


He’s probably a sweet, sweet old man. See he’s smiled at us and look now he’s waving at you.” Mrs. Kepler pointed at him; he was waving. The object in his hand was a soiled red lollypop. “Mommy he has a lollypop in his hand . . . but I don’t want it.” “No one said you had to take it. You can say no.” Erma’s hand tightened on her mother’s as she entered the shop. A tiny bell on the door jingled as they entered. “Welcome, welcome. Its is a great pleasure to have customers like yourself to grace my shop. Err, would your little one prefer hard candy to this I think in this country it is called a lolly-pop?” His accent was thick and foreign. It was slimy sounding and made Mrs. Kepler cringe. “Well my daughter has too many cavities so the dentist has said she should refrain from stuffing herself with sweets.” Erma nodded vigorously. “Yeah my Mommy’s right I have too many of the thingeys.” He leaned forward and scrutinized Erma. Then he flicked his hand to the gloppy mason jar that held the candies. “Fine.” He said as he dropped it back inside with a slight clink. “Do you know what happened to the lady that used to own this place . . . uh Tabitha Winthrop, the widow?” He slicked his hands together loosely as if in prayer. “Well Tabitha, my lovely lovely Tabitha is no longer here. She left under mysterious circumstances. I don’t know any more. I’ve been residing in this lovely place for more than two weeks.” “Oh.” Erma tugged at Mrs. Kepler’s skirt. She crouched down so Erma could whisper in her ear. “Mommy can we leave? I don’t like it here. I’ll place inside with my JustLikeMe dolls; you can write. I promise I won’t be bad. I’ll leave Sundance upstairs so we won’t misbehave.” “Ermie honey, we’re already here. Why don’t you stay with Mommy and not wander off by yourself?” Erma nodded and gripped Mrs. Kepler’s hand. The shopkeeper drummed his fingers on the counter. His eyes narrowed with the whole exchange. “What did you come to buy?” “Well we were going to have tea with Tabitha, but since she’s not here-we’re going to look around at your-” “Artifacts and antiques?” “Yeah, we’ll just-” “Look around then. My one rule is if you break it, you buy it. Usually I don’t like kids, but we’ll see with your little one. Now scurry off and browse.” He started picking his nails and checking the cash in the register. Mrs. Kepler tugged Erma along and started to ‘browse.’ Nothing really caught her eye. Most of it was grotesque and Erma trembled. The antiques were just about as slimy as their own. Everything was rusty and green. “Mom?” “Erma.” “It smells like the color brown or puce.” Mrs. Kepler laughed. She wished she had the eyes of a child-her child, Erma. Especially when she’d been stuck writing. She sighed in resignation and looked over the shelves to see that the 10


shopkeeper was cleaning his greasy register with a soiled cloth rag. She had a feeling he wouldn’t let them leave unless they bought something. The shop shelves held nothing of interest. Most everything was so ugly it would be a waste to buy. Erma showed interest in some porcelain dolls; but they were brimmed with sawdust and decapitated. Someone had cut off their limbs. Some were just heads on display in a glass box. “I don’t like it here.” Erma muttered. Mrs. Kepler quieted her down. The store was really a heap of garbage made to look presentable. Mrs. Kepler walked to the register. “Yes, customer?” “What is your name?” “Call me ​Dietrich.​” “Well Dietrich, do you have any paperbacks?” “What is a paperback, you speak of?” “A novel or a book bound in paper.” “A book-words on paper?” “Yes. If you’d like to call it that, I was hoping for something inspiring.” “Ah, I wonder if I do have what it is you are looking for. Wait for ah, two minutes whilst I . . . find the exquisite piece you so desire. Wait for me please.” Mrs. Kepler nodded exhasperated. “I’ll be here.” Erma figited nervously. She held Sundance closer to her, smushing his head against her mother’s skirt. “I know Ermie, you want to go home.” Ermie smiled stiffly and continued to make jerky movements to entertain her mother. Mrs. Kepler the wait seemed to drag on longer than it really was. The clock ticked louder and louder until . . . “I found it!” Dietrich slid into view from behind a closed door and brought an old bound book to the counter. “This is what you buy. You must buy it is a beauty.” He made a kissing gesture with his hand. “It is the ​Animalia-the kingdom of the animals​” Mrs. Kepler shook her head. “Thank you for your time, sir.” “No, no, wait-” He hobbled off to the store room and came back with a leather bound book instead. His fish teeth were hidden behind pursed lips, almost a pout. “You take this-​Beauty and the Beast​ retold by Hans Guttenbourg.” “Beauty and the Beast? I can assure you that Guttenbourg never wrote this.” “No but his descendents may have. You never know . . .” The fish teeth made a quick appearance. Erma’s grip tightened on Mrs. Kepler’s skirt. “How much?” “Twelve American dollars.” As they haggled over the price. Erma noticed a music box in the display case under the counter. The ballerina was slightly askew and the box was rusted and dirty. However, there was something that seemed to call out to Erma. Maybe it was the last sparkle of silver that 11


could just tease the question out of Erma’s mouth. “Mommy, can I have the music box?” Erma pointed to the display case. “That is the worthless piece of junk my father left me. Said if I could fix it, it would bring me good luck and a thousand wishes more than a magic lamp. Its a piece of dung beetles. No one in their right mind would buy that. Or would you, Madam?” “Pleeeeease Mommy, Daddy can fix it. I know he can.” Mrs. Kepler looked into her daughter’s pleading expression and thought it over. The music box was probably the only thing of value in the whole shop. “Well . . .” It was the first time Ermie had been excited about something other than her stuffed unicorn. Mrs. Kepler took out her wallet. “How much do you want?” “You have a twenty?” “I have a ten.” “Let me have it.” Mrs. Kepler’s eyes narrowed. “First the music box.” Diedrich looked at her sternly, then finally sighed and opened the case and slid out the merchandise. “There is a key, however for that-” “Five dollars?” “Fine. I’ll throw in the key for lightweight satisfaction. All the parts, the key, the ballerina-ten American dollars?” He heaved it into a paper sack, then he rolled up the top. It looked like a very large sack lunch for a picnic. Mrs. Kepler took the bag and handed over the bill into his slimy hands. “Thank you for your business.” Mrs. Kepler waved, then left. Erma was excited, however, her mother wouldn’t let her touch the bag until they were home. When the car pulled into the driveway, they noticed that Mr. Kepler’s truck was there also. He was home. Erma was jubilant. “Yay Daddy can fix my box.” “Ermie, Daddy’s probably tired. He was out all night at work. He’s probably asleep and irritable. Maybe we should surprise him with it at supper time.” “Moooom, please please pleeease can I show him at least.” The question of whether or not he was asleep was answered when they found him lounging on the kitchen counter with a cup of coffee. “Daddy.” Erma rang over with the bag in her hands to give her Dad an enormous hug. “Well isn’t it my sweet little Erma.” “Dad guess what?” “What pumpkin? Tell me what y’all did in the town.” “We went to this store and there was all these yucky antiques that looked like someone had farted everywhere and it smelled old and brown like like Mommy forgot that you or me had clogged up the toilet. And and it wasn’t cool. But then there was-” Erma continued the story with a lot more enthusiasm as she neared the end of her adventure. “And after the old man came back-I found there was a music box in the display case.” “Well show it ‘ere. What have we got from the scary store?” Mr. Kepler opened the package and dumped the contents on the kitchen table. He took an intake of breath and whistles. 12


“Sue-weee sweetheart, why did you buy this hunk of junk?” “Well the man wouldn’t let me leave without buying something, James.” “You coulda hot tailed outta there or called me so I’da come and getchu.” “Sweetie, we shouldn’t argue over ten dollars.” “Ten of my dollars gone to some kooky music box that ain’t ever gonna get back in working order, unless I spent some time down with some books and get the tools I need.” “It can be a side job with you and Ermie.” Mrs. Kepler turned to look down at Erma. “Ermie you want to help your father don’t you?” “Yes Mam.” “Go upstairs to play with your dolls and make Sundance frolics in the rays of sun for his daily dose.” Erma clenched her teeth. She berated her own forgetfulness. “Oh no, I have to go.” She ran up the stairs. Mr. Kepler’s eyes followed her until she was out of sight. “She’s something. You shouldn’t play make-believe with your own daughter.” “Who will? You definitely don’t have the time and there isn’t anyone in this goddamned town who is near her age.” “There is Tommy Turnover.” “The Turnovers are deranged and the boy isn’t fit to romp around with our daughter. Erma is at a sensitive stage. She’s not going out into the world alone. Ermie’s too . . .” Mr. Kepler’s voice shot up in volume. “That’s my daughter up there too.” “I know. We’re not fighting over whose daughter she is. We know that one for sure. She’s yours and she’s mine. The word for that situation is that is ​our daughter, James Kepler.” “Okay fight won. You got the touchdown. I’m just being more than I should be.” “You’re a good man. And your my husband. We don’t fight. Not over stupid things like that. I married an honest man.” “I married a smart woman.” They kissed for about ten minutes after that. [No description necessary.] Erma played a little louder. Her sound effects were more audible. Then, Mr. Kepler took the music box pieces and went to the garage where his woodshop was-his ‘Man Cave’-as Mrs. Kepler would often call it. Mrs. Kepler wandered back into her writing room and sighed at the typewriter sitting still on the desk. It was useless. She had utterly no idea what to write and there really was no reason to even sit down to fumble around with her imagination. There was honestly nothing that would irritate her more. Finally she decided on reading. Why not read? There was nothing to write. Maybe it would give her a wonderful idea that would end up as a bestseller, instead of the bleak outlook of the present moment. [No Words] 13


Then she noticed the paperback lying on its back on her windowseat. Humph, she was in the sort of mood that any book would bring her comfort. The Kingdom of Tulips ​. . . why not her own? She bagan where she’d left off last night with Ermie. In all the land, the most respected of all people was his majesty, The Duke of Roses. Maybe what distinguished him most in the kingdom was the fact that he was not the King of the Flora and Fauna, he was a Duke of high rank. But yet he still seemed to have a heart for the people because he had no duties to the kings and magistrates of other lands. HIs only reign was the common people and the flowers he loved so very much. The Duke of Roses was known for his decisive application of the law and his way with the animals under his care. His compassion was known throughout the land as right and just. He wa a model for the people. But beside his compassion and good name, fortune had bequeathed him a daughter of the most startling beauty. She was a gem of royal lineage. Her eyes were blue as sapphires or the dark blue of the moon setting on a lake in the evening or late at night. Her face was gay with laugh lines and her laughter threw the dove into shame. No mockingbird or cardinal or any bird of close range could resist the harmonious lit of her lovely voice. It was akin to the call of a siren0-sinful and dangerous to behold. Her hair was midnight and swept as long as the tower where her father had locked her up to keep her safe.. Safe and sound-locked away in a tower as high as a dragon’s fireball shot up. High as the sky, the people would call it. The Lady of the Clouds she was called and it was said that her father would allow any man who could retrieve her from her dragon guarded high perch to marry the girl. It was the perfect happily ever after. But even for a Prince Charming who qualified for such a task, he wouldn’t ever be motivated to save a lady no one had ever seen. He didn’t know whether or not the girl was beautiful. Why risk the burns and time to slay a dragon. It was possible that it would take years just to get the enormous dragon in the right position in which a slay could be attempted. Or a while to find where the dragon would nap during its mid morning sauna It was a boring wait for the Princess Edeline who was stuck in the tower all day. Sure there was a schedule she kept to occupy herself and a pet ferret that would entertain her with his playful antics, However, there was no Prince to come riding in to save her and well she wouldn’t be happy if someone slayed the dragon. “Gilbert!” The dragon roared as his snout stuck into the living room / sitting room. “Well I couldn’t bear to kill anything more than a fly so I made you tea instead.” Smoke curled out of his violet nostrils. Edeline chuckled. “Drink up.” She poured the tiny teacupful into his smoking nostril. The smoke changed colors and the dragon gave a bone rattling chuckle as he watched the Princess start to giggle. The ferret looked to be in on the commotion before rolling on the floor in absentminded-ferret antics. Edeline practiced her interview playfully. “Let’s say that one day I get out of here and the Royal Papers want to interview me? Do you know what they’d ask?” 14


The dragon changed his color of smoke. “Well of course I’d say that my name is Edeline and I’m the people’s princess. Will they like that or should I say that I’m the Lady in the Clouds. No one’s ever seen me before because my father’s afraid that I’ll be kidnapped by a witch like his sister was. No, too perky? Well then I’d introduce my dragon Gilbert and my trusted ferret friend, Claudius who would bow. Claudius?” Claudius executed his bow flawlessly with a cabaret like paw of royal . . . well can a ferret be called royal. His name was royal, his manner royal, yet his paws were ferret paws. Mrs. Kepler knocked off her reading glasses accidentally as she paused to think what she could change for a better book. Maybe I should’ve introduced a cat instead of a ferret or a caterpillar. She wondered if Erma would be interested in that kind of a story. Could it rival Dr Seuss? Make a rhyming children’s book that would beat the master. It was tantalizingly-not close. There was no glory without an idea how to reach glory. Mrs. Kepler hobbled along the floor and found that her glasses had rolled into a tin can that was usually her water can when she played around with watercolors in the springtime. She set it back on the shelf and fingered her book. She wondered if she should even attempt a sequel if her own daughter wouldn’t read it. Her editor thought it was excellent. Who wouldn’t? She sighed in defeat and stacked it away with her other book in the bookshelf. Mrs. Kepler decided she wanted to check on her husband in the garage, but before she did that she checked on Ermie. “Ermie?” Mrs. Kepler carefully opened the door from its ajar state. Erma was fast asleep in the midst of a space world with Sundance as a transportation for her JustLikeMe dolls. Mrs. Kepler set her on her bed and tucked the blankets around her. Lunch had already come and gone without her notice. Oddly it was getting dark. Maybe a storm was brewing. She poked her fingers between the blinds to check out the weather and surely enough little droplets of inky rain were starting to fall. Mrs. Kepler raised her voice. “James . . . James?” “What is it sweetie?” “There’s a storm coming.” “Oh boy. I gotta go check on the animals. Tell Ermie-” “Erma’s asleep darling. She’s snug as a bug.” As Mr. Kepler checked on the livestock, Mrs. Kepler found a batch of old coffee from the morning. The pot Mr. Kepler had made earlier. She warmed it up and wrapped herself in a cozy wrap around sweater. Mr. Kepler was completely soaked as he walked in. He shut the screen door with a sqeual and moaned. “Gotta fix that too. Sweetie you were right, its pooring rain out there. Miserable as hell for the cattle. Could I have some of that?” Mrs. Kepler quickly got his mug and filled it with marshmellows. Then she slowly sank back into her chair. “You look cozy.” 15


Mrs. Kepler smiled. “Well I got er’body settled and the whole countryside won’t be as snug as I made that barn.” “James you should get into some dry clothes. You’ll catch your death in those duds.” “Well thank you for caring sweetheart.” “Who’s bringing in the bacon?” He laughed raucously before nodding and changing into winter flannels. “How about hunting for some geese.” “No. I don’t wanna be alone in this weather. I wanna just relax and get cozy with those flannels.” Mr. Kepler smiled dangerously before pointing to the living room. “Checking the weather channel for those updates on this weather.” Mrs. Kepler nodded nonchalantly. “Alright, maybe I’ll join you.” He nodded then threw off his boots one by one and curled his toes in his socks. Then he marched into the living room and settled on the couch like a sack of potatoes. He lazily drew the sofa covering around himself and sighed content. Mrs. Kepler watched this whole scene with amusement. “You look as comfy as . . .” “Don’t compare me to an animal. I’m just tired of work and its getting to the time I should be heading back.” Mrs. Kepler invited herself into his arms and changed the news stations. The TV buzzed as its reception skewed with the rain affecting the satelite dish. But after a moment of static. The picture came clear. “​Breaking news: A small town heist in the bustling town of Goldren.” “Darling, that near our house. A heist? Why I was there just this afternoon with our little Ermie at the shop.” “Shhh Sweetie, lets hear the news.” “The crime was reported as no endangering anyone, however, it seems that our culprit has escaped, but investigators believe that they have quite a bundle of evidence on a bustling drug trade that seems to have a hub in small town Goldren. The accomplices are unknown and investigators are interviewing anyone who entered the shop during the course of the evening. They speculate that they may find an inkling that may sketch out what the shopkeeper looked like or possibly even what he may have been wears. Speculators are incredulous that the actual owner of the shop, Mrs. Tabitha Winthrop, has been missing for quite some time and no one can launched an inquiry. The drug trade hub in the small town may in fact bring more people to it as the police strangely have asked amateur detectives to launch the investigation as the police task force is not trained to handle any such case of this scale. This has come to the attention of famous NYPD consulting detective, Joseph Griffith, who will be arriving late tomorrow afternoon to take over the case from the-” The television remote was instant in Mr. Kepler’s hand as he changed the channel. “We don’t need some fancy detective from New York.” “Honey, they just want to solve the mystery and bring justice. The Police in Goldren are good people. But they are unqualified. No one ever get murdered here or, my Lord, what else the crazies in the city attempt on the innocent city folk.” 16


“We ain’t city folk.” “Well you wanna go to bed?” “Dinner?” “You wanna make it?” “No. I’m tired from working all day.” “Maybe you should get a job in the force.” “As a policeman?” “Who wouldn’t like you? Your incredible honorable and right and just as the law.” “Who’s gonna go work the farm. We got the harvest; we got the animals, slaughtering those pigs for bacon.” “Well I think we should help-” “Why would we help? You go near those people-” “James, you know I don’t jump headfirst into trouble. I was just going to give the police a statement.” “Darlin’ we’re talking about the dealers. They hear you’ve been talking to the law. They’ll have my neck long before they have yours. Stay away from the business. I’m serious. No compromises. I don’t want you near him. We don’t need the law knocking down our door. I got enough to worry about with Ermie about to go to school and her dollars for college and I ain’t need to be worryin’ about some thug coming about messin’ with my wife. You stay here out of the way until this mess is over and done with.” “Fine. I will. Should we at least turn in the music box.” “Nah, we’ll keep it, there ain’t no harm in a music box.” “Unless its laced with some sort of drugs.”

17


Chapter 3 Mrs. Kepler was true to her word. She obeyed her husband and stayed as far away as possible from the crime scene. In fact, she never went out anymore, except to church on Sundays. At least, not without her escorting husband. She’d had enough one Sunday evening. Her heels clacked on the floor as she confronted her husband. “You know what? I’m sick of sitting inside all day, I’m going to town.” “Christ Almighty. Sweetie, you are NOT leaving this house. I don’t want you in Goldren.” “Where do I go? There isn’t another town for another hundred miles.” “Go to Charleston.” “Charleston has absolutely nothing I like.” “This house doesn’t run on your ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ go back upstairs and write something. You’re always complaining that you don’t have the time. Well you got all the time in the world now. Why don’t you use it?” Mrs. Kepler fumed and raced out of the house. She rolled off her tights and pulled on a jacket. Then she ran outside with her keys and out of some whim she snatched the music box from her husband’s work table and drove angrily to Goldren- just to spite him. She started feeling guilty as she saw the crumbling buildings and the lonely flagpole by City Hall. “I shouldn’t have done that.” She murmured. “I’m in for it now when I get home.” She rested her head against the steering wheel for a moment as the shop came into view. It was ringed by yellow caution tape. However, there was no red and blue lights in sight. She parked across the street and walked over to the sight. “Mam-” Mrs. Kepler jolted in surprise. “Oh.” “Sorry for startling you, but this is a no civilian zone. Its marked off for police investigation” Mrs. Kepler took in a deep breath to get her bearing. “I see.” Then she focused on the man standing in front of her. He was clad in a fedora and a strange khaki trenchcoat. His clothes were semi-formal and nondescript. Normal, usual for the people of Goldren and all around here. Suddenly it hit her. “You’re that fancy detective from New York aren’t you.” “How do you know that? I could just be someone passing through.” He struggled keeping his voice level. “But, no one is ‘passing through’ in Goldren. We’re nowhere near the Interstate or even State roads. We are absolutely not on the map. I assure you until about a week ago. There are no estranged aunts or uncles or cousins coming here without it being in the Church bulletin. I was at church last Sunday-” “Alrighty you got me. You wanna use my handcuffs.” He held them out to her playfully as he put his hands up as if he would be gladly arrested by her. His smile was strikingly attractive-like something you would see in the movies. 18


Mrs. Kepler shook her head. “No. I shouldn’t be here. I should go home and listen to my tyrant of a husband give a tirade on the safety of me being here.” The detective smoothly snatched her hand and let the ring sparkle. “You don’t look like a married woman. I wouldn’t have ever known unless I sighted your well worn wedding ring. I’ll bet its an antique or passed down.” “It was my grandmother’s, you’re right. I got it in the will when she died.” “Well that hubby of yours is right about one things. This place isn’t somewhere you should be wandering around in. Why did you come here? I’m guessing from your earlier statement that you had a fight with the old man. Did he hurt you physically? Was there some sort of physical altercation? Mam I am very well versed in let me word it-” “My husband is not a wife-beater. He’s the sweetest man alive and I married him because he loves me.” “Sounds like he’s controlling.” “All men are.” “Not all. If it was me, I would let my wife do whatever she goddamn wanted. Buy whatever she wanted. I’d treat her like a goddess. She would have to be beautiful though.” He straightened his collar in the wind. “Well then, that lady would be quite a fine girl. Though not the kind of life I would be satisfied with.” “What kind of life would that be?” Mrs. Kepler closed her eyes and opened them with a halting breath. “I’m a married woman, Mr-” “Salvatore” “Yes, Mr. Salvatore. If you’d think that I am a lovestruck teenage who can’t stand a lovely face, you’ll be mistaken.” He sighed heavily and crossed his arms. Then narrowed his eyes. “Well it was nice to meet to you. Have a nice day.” Then he walked off. When he was out of sight, Mrs. Kepler relaxed. She tightened her coat around herself as the wind billowed ominously. Then she heaved her music box pieces; they clinked as together as the bag crumbled. What was that all about? Mrs. Kepler cautiously looked around to make sure no one was looking. Yhen she slipped under the caution tape. Then she shimmied through a broken window. Mrs. Kepler gasped. The whole room was in disarray. It was worse than a garbage dump. The room was blackened with smoke and smelled like someone had poured coffee everyone to mask the smell of something else. All the beautiful antiques-well they were grotesquely beautiful, if you wanted to be literal about the type of beauty-they were blackened from the flames. It was such a surprise as it was impossible to deduce this from the outside. Mrs. Kepler could have driven past on her way to the gas station, never the wiser. But now she was here her curiously blossomed to full flower. She started to upturn things to find a shred of evidence, but everything was too charred to make any sense of. There was no stray piece of paper of a clue. Finally as the storeroom was blocked, she came to the display case, which absurdly was perfectly preserved. 19


She could see a carousel tinkling on with silent horses-no doubt fueled by sawdust-as well as knickknacks that were knock off versions of the real thing. One sparkly silver key sat in the place where the music box one stood, along with some gears the old man had forsaken to give her. Mrs. Kepler found the display case key on a hook in the wall and shoved all the pieces inside the sack. Then as she turned to go she froze. “Well, well, aren’t we the culprit caught red handed with the booty, Mrs. Nancy Kepler.” She relaxed her muscles, she didn’t have anything to hide. “Salvatore-detective extraordinaire from New York. How do you do?” “I was just talking to you not ten minutes ago. To not come into the crime scene. Are you another amateur trying to outsmart me? You know I know more about this gang of dealer than anyone in the entire Police force of the US of A.” He smirked. “That’s a lofty proposal. Its arrogant so I would guess that you’re sort of a duckling sent from the bigger raptors who run the NYPD. I’ll bet this is child’s play to them. They have better things to do. Sure maybe you’re the one with the impressive endorsements and big flashy headlines. But, a true detective wouldn’t like to be known for his work. It would endanger his family, his work.” “No, notoriety is the bigger weapon. You wouldn’t attack my family if you knew I would hunt you down.” “Interesting. Never thought of it that way. That’s something I’ll have to think about when I drive home.” Mrs. Kepler took a step back to the wide open door. She could see her car from here. She started backing and turned to go. “What’s in the sack?” She paused. For some reason she knew telling him would put her in his suspicions. “You don’t have to lie to me. You’re too attractive to be a criminal.” Mrs. Kepler sighed. “Its a music box I bought for my daughter yesterday.” “When did you have her?” “My daughter?” “You sound like she was a mistake. You look too young to be a mother. I doubt you’re older than twenty and I’ve seen pictures of you and her together from your in-laws.” Mrs. Kepler turned “That’s my business. My daughter wasn’t a mistake. She was planned. I’m twenty three. I had Erma when I was nineteen in the community college in Charleston.” “Well that’s all I need to know.” He took out a notepad and crossed out her name. Mrs. Kepler felt like a bug under inspection with a microscope. She was crawling away with a spider-like tenacity, but something kept drawing her back to the petri dish. Or the pincer-like grasp of the tweezers. The detective clicked his pen like a doctor done and satisfied with his surgery or diagnosis. Then he turned. Suddenly Mrs. Kepler realized this wasn’t one of the ducklings, this was the hawk. “Salvatore isn’t your real name is it?” “You catch things pretty quick don’t you Mrs. Kepler. You should have kept trying-you can be more than James Kepler’s locked up housewife. You can be more. If you want to know my 20


name, you’ll have to earn it-” “Nancy.” He stared at her funny. “You can call me Nancy. This whole Mrs. Kepler business is tiring me. I don’t think I like where I am anymore.” “That makes the two of us . . . Nancy.” He tipped his hat. “Tell me what you find in the music box. I hope you have the tools to fix it yourself.” Mrs. Kepler nodded. “My husband isn’t too keen on fixing it.” “I see. If I can call you Nancy, you can call me Mr. Sanders instead of Detective Salvatore as my counterparts will call me.” “Mr. Sanders?” “You’ll have to earn the rest.” He nodded towards the box. “Good day to you.”

21


Chapter 4 Mrs. Kepler was a little overwhelmed on her drive home. She wasn’t sure exactly what she was supposed to think about Mr. Salvatore. Or Sanders, as he’d revealed to her. It was almost too much all at once. She turned to look at the sack. It contained one of the valuable clues in the investigation and should have been turned over to the police, but instead here it sat in the backseat of her car. All in all, it was a rather fishy business. There was no doubt in her mind that Sanders was putting on a front. He was all the smooth detective that the papers made him out to be and he was just as intelligent and witty and un-naturally good as his job as he was supposed to be. Yet why would he trust her? For all he knew she could have been part of the crime ring. She wasn’t nearly as intelligent as he was nor as well versed on the law as she’d have liked him to believe. She stopped at a red light and rested her head against the seat. What had she gotten herself into? As she turned to go she could see a man in a khaki coat watching her. It was Sanders. He didn’t wave or show any outward signs that he knew her. He just stared with a scrutinizing gaze. The gaze that made her feel like she was under the microscope of a skilled scientist. She released the break as the light switched and was glad to have an excuse to accelerate quickly and let her car zoom out of town. The house was dark and silent as she approached it. The late afternoon air seemed to make it seem ominous and quite frightening looking, Mrs. Kepler thought to herself as she pulled into the driveway. She glanced at the clock on her dashboard and realized she’d only been missing for about forty-five minutes. Yet the house was so dark? It was only six thirty. She got out and unlocked the door to the same stillness. “Sweetie, I’m home. I’m sorry for -” There was no one there. Mrs. Kepler dropped her bags and ran up the stairs to Erma’s room. She started to panic as she wondered if Mr. Kepler had left her. “Oh God please let my child stay here.” She pushed it open and laughed. Erma yelled, “Surprise!” Erma’s room was miraculously cleaned. “Ermie you did this all by yourself, huh? Well its wonderful. It’s the perfect surprise for a stressed out Mommy. You know I love you Toots?” Erma nodded comically letting her head bob up and down. “Are you home alone? Do you know where Daddy ran off to?” “Daddy left with a guy in a real fancy car.” “You mean he left you like this. All alone with no one in the house to look after you?” “Well he said he was lookin’ to go find momma. He said you’d be back ‘round nighttime- same 22


time the he would be back. He said that Sundance could take care of me as well as anyone as long as I stayed in the house and didn’t let in no bogey monsters. Then he said that Sally the babysitter would come in soon too.” “But she didn’t come.” “She called and said she’d come in at seven.” Mrs. Kepler breathed in a sigh of relief. Then got her wits together. “Ermie you keep playing in here. I’m gonna make some phone calls. Nah, you come on down to the livin’ room and watch cartoons while I go about making some supper. ‘kay?” Erma sighed sarcastically. “Okay Mom. First I have to put Sundance and Ducky to sleep.” Mrs. Kepler forced a laugh then walked downstairs to the kitchen wall where the landline was strung up. As she put her coat away, it started to ring. She shimmied out of it and hung it crooked to answer the phone. “Hello er, this is the Kepler residence. What is y’all calling about?” The deep voice at the other end made her cringe. “Kepler residence. So I got the number right.” “Yes sir. Is this a courtesy call to James Kepler or is this a salesman? Cause’ I’m not buying anything without the presence of my husband.” “He’s not there.” “He’s unavailable currently. May I ask who’s calling?” “You’re the educated one right? Heard you were smart ‘fore you married Kepler.” “What is your business because right now I feel like I should be hanging up out of your lack of respect, sir.” “Well Mrs. Kepler I’m calling because you were seen today entering the old property of late Mrs. Tabitha Winthrop. You weren’t unobserved speaking with a certain gentlemen whose come here to clear the crime ring here in Goldren.” “Are you calling from Goldren, sir?” “No, I’m calling from a pay phone in New Hampshire. I’ve been trying to reach you since well . . . a long time.” “I don’t feel inclined to believe you.” “Why not?” “Well why would someone from the high and mighty New Hampshire worry about who I’ve been talking to in Goldren. I was a friend with Tabitha and she was a dear old lady who really had no reason to be murdered. I’m worried that the detective from New York is complicating things.” “He’s a no good rascal we can agree on that-” There was a pounding at the door. Mrs. Kepler was torn. “Well excuse me, there’s someone knocking at the door. I’m sorry sir, but I’d better go see who it is.” The man at the other end started to protest, but she set the phone down on a parlor chair and went to the door. “Alright, I’m coming. Don’t be impatient. I’m coming.” The pounding stopped. “Who is it?” The person on the other side of the door cleared his throat. She knew it was a man because it was a lot lower than a lady would sound. She cautiously opened the door and was greeted by a figure dressed in all black. It had started raining sometime ago and the man was soaked. 23


“Who are you?” He didn’t respond. He handed her a package and shook himself strangely before disappearing. Mrs. Kepler held out the package and tried to make sense of where he had gone to. However, his black clothing made him impossible to spot. She shut the door and opened the package. It contained a doll-a ballerina hand carved in ivory. It was wonderfully made. Mrs. Kepler wondered whether it would fit in the music box. It was a strange idea. Yet how wonderful would that be if it did. It would solve the mystery. “James would be inclined to sell it.” She realized. “It’s a beautiful thing; but as he doesn’t want to have anything to do with the mystery, he’d destroy it. Or even try to give it to the police.” The phone line blared, “Are you there, Mrs. Kepler? Nancy Kepler—” Robotically Mrs. Kepler answered. “Why don’t you call me back? I’ve got something important on hand.” She cupped the figurine and called Sally. Sally answered on the first ring. “Hello. This is Sally.” “Sally this is Mrs. Kepler.” “Mrs. Kepler oh I was just about to head over to your place. Your husband called me earlier and asked if I was free to come over and watch your daughter for a few hours.” “I know Sally. But there has been a misunderstanding. I’ll be home so we won’t need you.” “Cool. That is totally like fine with me. Yeah, hey I gotta go. But I can babysit at any other time that you need me.” Mrs. Kepler smiled. The teenager was obviously with friends, getting ready. “Have a well deserved night out, okay Sally. Don’t engage in any dangerous activities. I want to know the details.” “You got em—” Sally hung up. Mrs. Kepler paused to think before dialing again. She couldn’t call her husband at work because she knew he wouldn’t be there. She couldn’t call the bar because he hadn’t gone out for drinks. In the background, Erma had started watching cartoons. Mrs. Kepler made a mental note of getting Mr. Sanders directions the next day so she could call him or drive to where he was staying. Then she suddenly wondered if he was staying at the local inn. Mrs. Kepler unhooked the phone and perused through her phone book for the inn’s number. She found it and dialed accordingly. There was hardly a ring before the innkeeper picked up. “Hello Goldren Inn and Suites. How may I help you?” Mrs. Kepler had thought a little bit on what she would say before calling. Everything would go a lot simpler if she pretended she was from New York. She laid her disguise quickly and was forwarded through to the appropriate suite. Mr. Sanders answered immediately. “Hello darling from New York.” “Mr Salvatore?” “Oh, I think I know who this is.” His voice deepened as he both realized who she was and formulated a plan. 24


“Do you want to meet in person, rather than have a romantic conversation over the phone? I mean sweetheart, I don’t want other boarders to be eavesdropping on what we’re gonna do tonight. Who don’t you dress up and bring our child to Charleston? You could take a taxi and have him drop you off at the bar. We’ll let our daughter off with the tender’s wife and dance in the moonlight. Doesn’t that sound romantic, sweetheart?” Mrs. Kepler schooled her voice to mimic the sultry movie star comeback. “I’ll be the one in red, handsome.” The line went dead. Mrs. Kepler was faced with a tantalizing proposition. Yet she didn’t own a red dress. Erma turned to where Mrs. Kepler was brooding. “What is it Mommy?” “Do you want to go out for dinner sweetie? Just me and you?” Erma crooked her head as she thought it over. “Okay, but what about Daddy? What when he get’s home? He won’t have any dinner or anyone to eat it with.” “I’m sure he’ll be fine. I promise he’ll be fine. There’s some casserole he can eat and some cold cut ham sandwiches I made last night. They’ll be right at the top where he’ll see it.” Erma bobbed up and over to the refrigerator to check and nodded in approval. “Okay, let’s go.” Erma shrugged into her winter clothes, while Mrs. Kepler got ready. She found a dress that could pass for red, then settled on a way to disguise herself. She didn’t want to be recognized at Charleston or anywhere with Detective Sanders. He’d hinted that he was being watched at the inn so she made herself look as New Yorker as possible. This constituted a hemline that was scandalously above the knee and a smoky look about her eyes. She poofed her hair and outlined her eyes in dark kohl. Then she flounced her eyelashes to give herself a look of smart cat eyed elegance. She rouged and painted her lips in bold red. Then stood back to gauge the effect. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d dressed up. Not just for church or a town meeting. Dressed up to look beautiful. She liked this. It was one of her silly things that James disapproved of. His philosophy was a wife should look like a mother and a mother . . . well a mother never looked like this. She perfumed herself with an ancient bottle called ‘Ashes of Rose’ and gathered her wrap and parasol. Erma burst into the room and burst into a megawatt smile. “Mommy you look so pretty.” “Oh this old thing. Mommy’s much too . . . do you like this Mommy? Do you like how Mommy can still be pretty and still love you. Can a mother be two things at once, Ermie?” AS she said this Mrs. Kepler thought about a passage in t​ he Kingdom of Tulips​. “The Lady in the Clouds--that’s what my people used to call me before.” “Before what, my Lady Edeline?” “Before well--all this happened and the world stopped to stare at who I was. The Duke will be furious when he finds out what happened. Who am I to be here? I’m not the princess or even the darling of the kingdom. I’m more like that Sleeping Beauty that woke up a lot later than she was supposed to. People shouldn’t be as interested in me as they are. This ball shouldn’t have been commissioned. I should have said no to this and stayed locked up in my tower. I have no purpose staying in hiding and trying to dispense my true self to people that don’t love me or 25


know me as I am.” “Darling you should forget all this and look into my eyes. All the answers to your problems are there. I promise it’ll be a perfect happily ever after.” “Happy ever after-is that what I really want. To be married to a man I hardly know in a faraway land where there are no tulips, roses, flowers or anything I know. Maybe this is your version of a happy ending. But the important thing is . . . is it mine?” Erma put on her jacket and called out. “Mommy when are we gonna go.?” “Yup sweetie. Let me just find my heels and we’ll be off.” Finding the heels . . . well . . . Mrs Kepler hadn’t worn them for years and years so there really wasn’t a reason why they would be in plain sight. As it turned out they were shoved away under some boxes in the attic. Not at the bottom of her dresser as she’d hoped to find them. Ermie was baffled. “Why are you taller Mommy?” Mrs. Kepler pointed to the stiletto part of the heel. “They make me look prettier.” “I don’t think you have to walk on the points to be beautiful. I think you’re regular shoes would look just as okay as the pointy monster shoes. Do the hurt?” “They will a little later. But I probably won’t wear them as long as needed for them to hurt. I’ll just not wear them-but we have to go silly goose.” Mrs. Kepler checked the time on the clock and got Erma to put on her sneakers. Erma still hadn’t master the whole aspect of laces so Mrs. Kepler double knotted them for her. When they were extra tight and Mrs. Kepler was sure Erma wasn’t going to be able to flip them off she pronounced her work done. Mrs. Kepler held up a finger. “Don’t untie them, okay sweetie?” “Okay.” Erma huffed. “But what if my feet get hot?” “They won’t. You’ll be inside all night silly goose. The frostbites won’t have a chance to take a nip at your toes-the little piggies.” Mrs. Kepler wiggled the soles of her shoes for emphasis. “But then why don’t you have stockings on.” Mrs. Kepler rubbed noses with her daughter and breathed in her sleepy smell. “I won’t get sick.” Then they both got into the car. After making sure all the belts were fastened. Mrs. Kepler started the car and backed out of the driveway. She turned and carefully maneuvered the car to the main road. The road was dark and poorly lit, however, as she had had a visitor within the last hour, Mrs. Kepler was nervous about putting her lights on until she hit the Interstate. She thought about this for a while-what if the man in black was still watching her now. What if it was even a woman or someone related to the crime ring. By God, it even could’ve been her husband for all she knew. Mrs. Kepler tightened her grip on the steering wheel and speed up to join with the cars on the Interstate. The drive to Charleston was a sort of stilted affair with little fun. Sure Erma spent the whole time belting out the notes to her nursery rhyme tape, however, Mrs Kepler was bathed in axiety she was worried about her shoes, her clothes, her make up. “I hope I’m not too overdone.” The thought to herself as she surveyed her eyeshadow in the rearview mirror. Mrs. Kepler pulled up to the tavern in town and parked near the back lot. She wasn’t sure exactly where Mr. Sanders was planning to meet her. Both that and what on earth Erma was going to do the whole time whilst she sat talking with him. What would the neighbors say if they saw her like this? 26


She didn’t really have time to think abput trifles like that; she stuck the sack of music box pieces into her spacious purse and walked off into the tavern with Erma in tow. “Mommy I don’t like it here. Its-” “Pssssst-hey, hey, Mrs. Kepler over here.” A hand bechoned into the alleyway on the corner of the backlot. Mrs. Kepler paused. Then she huffed and dragged Erma behind her. Once they were deeper into the shadows, the man spoke more clearly. “Nancy you and I are going to have a chat in the bar. I think you have enough suave to be a convincing New York babe. However, your little trooper is going to deck it out with my housekeeper.” “Where?” Erma struggled as someone pulled her backward. Then her hand was wrenched out of Mrs. Kepler’s. “Ermie?” Mrs. Kepler saw she was in the arms of a sweet old lady who was cradling her. Mrs. Kepler relaxed. “Well she’s got a handle on her-a good grip too. But, why isn’t Ermie struggling.” “That’s not important.” Sanders grabbed her arm and tugged her forward into the streetlight. Men smoking by the newsstand gave her a once over as Mrs. Kepler blushed deeply. They dropped ash on the street and whistled when the detective’s hand clasp protectively around her. His lips tickled her ear. “Play along Nancy. Your name is now Evangeline von Gogh. You’re a heiress and in love with me.” She remembered the sultry smoke that had permeated her voice on the phone conversation and answered him with the same ear hushed whisper. “That is I so who are you?” He smiled good naturedly and held up a finger like she’d said something raucous. “I’m just Salvatore. You should call me Chris. That’s my cover.” Mrs Kepler held her head up and swung her handbag more jauntily. She let her legs sway more as they entered the premises. The man at the door didn’t even ask for an I.D. when he let them in. Mr. Sanders-Salvatore-nodded at him as his hand resting on the small of her back. Mrs. Kepler tried to relax, but she couldn’t stop thinking sbout how casually he was with his movements around her. He moved with the practiced confident air of someone who knew her very well. Then she remembered their predicament and pursed her lips to keep her cool. Her heels wobbled a little uncomfortably as Sanders led her to a sheltered booth behind the curtained partition of the bar. Mrs. Kepler tried to keep her cover as the waiter strolled over to take their order. “So Salvatore I see you have friends in high places.” “Europe suited you well Evangeline, dear. The States are kind to you always if you’d only stay and chat a while with Uncle Sam maybe you’d see the friends will blossom from the seeds you plant.” “Well . . . Christopher . . . you see I have no seeds to plant. I’m not a girl who's fit to live in these conditions.” Detective Sanders held up a hand to stop her spiel, then he rose and slowly crept toward the fabric divider. He tightened it, then drew a silk screen in front of it. He dusted off his hands before deciding his work was acceptable. 27


“I think we may resort to normal speech, Mrs. Kepler. No more New York huff. You can speak your mind or whatever you needed to tell me to bring me along on this case. Mrs. Kepler pulled the music box scrap bag from her purse and set it on the table. Sanders immediately come over to watch her take the figurine out of the bag. Mrs. Kepler was hesitant to give it to him as the figure had specifically intended for her to have it. “I’m with the law, Nancy. You know everything will be properly tested in the crime laboratory.” Mrs. Kepler bit her lip as she paused to ponder. “How did you get this room all to ourselves?” “I own this bar and this little restaurant piece of it.” “You’re from New York. Why on earth would you invest in a small town miner’s bar? This makes completely no sense. Unless your newspaper escapes are true. You put up an excellent detective front. But how can I really know that I can trust you?” “Why don’t we reverse the question? How could I trust the housewife of a man who’s been linked to over twenty-three murders? How can I trust her when she dresses well and disguises herself well and can spin dialogue that sounds as if delivered from a skilled actor?” “I did community theater when I was in college. I always do as well as I can with what I’m given and though what little education U got from community college . . . my father was a lawyer and we would have arguments over the dinner table. I learned his style of speech which is the reason I speak so well.” Sanders raised an eyebrow. “I swear its true. I did participate in community theater and my father was a lawyer.” He took a deep even breath. “This is my brother’s restaurant. I don’t own it. I just happened to come across this case and since I hadn’t seen him in a while I took it.” “So you’re not a fancy detective from New York?” “Oh Mrs. Kepler when you visit city you’ll realize that I am just one shark of many in a tank. We sometimes fight and quarrel; but we understand we all want the biggest fish. However, there isn’t as many big fish to go around as there are sharks. I’m one of the bigger sharks so I get the bigger fish. But there are biggest and more big than I.” “Well, then lets get down to business. The pieces that I got from the man in the shop are in the sack and this is the beautiful figurine that sits atop the set.” “Well seeing that you understand music box pieces no better than I do. Do you know what the finished music box could be worth?” “I’m speculating either a load of money or not even a penny.” “My friends in high places inform me this could be the music box owned by the lost princess Anastasia and if that is so-this little runt is worth over twelve million dollars.” Mrs. Kepler blanched. Then thought to herself, “I’ve been driving around all day with twelve million dollars sitting in my backseat.” She thought of what she could buy with all that money. She could go back to college and Erma would never want again. She didn’t want to hope. Hope would make her worry and worry well . . . she didn’t need any more of that. “Uh, well we don’t know anything for sure now do we?” “No. However, my colleague, this one in particular is sure that the piece may have entered a pawn shop type of transaction. But this is so dented up we have no idea what happens when we put it together.” “Say why don’t I give the box to the toy maker whose here in town making Christmas gifts for 28


the children. I think he has some expertise with this sort of thing. I’ll have him take a look at it. We don’t know anything for sure and its just some dusty old trinkets. I’ll bet it has something to do with everything mysterious that’s been going on. I swear I feel something peculiar whenever I touch this figurine.” “What do you mean, Nancy?” Mrs. Kepler folded her hands in her lap and fiddled with the figurine as she composed herself. Then she narrated the whole episode where the man in black had delivered the figurine at her door. She explained how her husband at the same time was missing and how she strongly suspected she was being watched at her home. Mr. Sanders sat tight lipped the whole time. His hands were clenched convulsively around the tied end of the bag. He seemed horrified with her story. “Nancy I think you should stay here in Charleston for the time being. I’m going to initiate an investigation of the area surrounding your home and if your husband is not present at your house we’ll alert the Goldren police that he may have a possible link to the crime ring or even issue a missing person’s report.” “A missing person’s report. You don’t think . . . why yes, you think he was involved in something as cruel and unusual as this. I’ve been married to him for what . . . five years now. YOu can’t just walk in and tell me the man who's the father of my daughter is a criminal? I hardly know you. How-” Mr. Sanders grabbed her hand as she stood to go. “Mrs. Kepler sit and think for a moment. I know you’re upset as well as tired and everything that comes with the trauma of realization. I understand everything you’re going through exactly.” “I know you’re in the force, Sanders.” “You can call me Andy now.” The detective had his hands folded in his lap and the look of a shrink was fixed to his face. It was mask-like and completely professional. Mrs. Kepler was hesitant. She wasn’t exactly sure what he meant by all this. They haven't solved anything yet. Why was he acting as if he could shove her off and complete the case with music box pieces. Her feelings on the matter was annoyance littered with anxiety and anger. Actually forget the annoyance, it was just anger-pure and raw. “Well Andy Sanders, I see you’ve finished with everything you came here to do. You’ve got the mystery solved, I suppose there is probably a promotion waiting for you back in New York.” He smiled. Then his expression became hard. “You, though, will be remaining here with my brother until-everything is concluded in a neat packet. Then you’re life will be exactly the way it way. It’ll be like nothing ever happened.” “Then why did you call me here? What game is this? You could have driven to my house and picked up the parts. Why should I say with your brother. I have no reason to ‘report’ to you anymore.” “Nancy, calm down. This isn’t just about solving the mystery and taking the glory for you. You’re a woman. Woman can’t go out into the cold cruel world without someone to guide them.” Mrs. Kepler stood up abruptly and took the sack of pieces. She didn’t leave time for detective Sanders to react, she printed out of the room and onto the cool street. She cursed quietly in the cold as she’d left her coat inside, slung on the chair next to him. “Oh well,” she thought as she pulled out her spare parka from her backseat, “it could keep him 29


company.” She walked over into the tinker’s shop and waited for him to finish winding back the gears of a jack-in-the-box. He greeted her with kind aged eyes. “Mrs. Kepler what a delight to have you here. It’s been . . . years since you’ve set foot in this shop. Why I think you were only as high as the countertop. Now you’re all grown-up and what I hear from things . . . with a little monster of your own.” Mrs. Kepler mentally panicked as she wondered where Erma had been taken. “Mam are you alright?” Mrs. Kepler cleared her throat. “Fit as a fiddle sir. I’m just a little chilled from walking around so much. It’s not such a nice night for a stroll. Its just well-” “Its wretched weather for any outdoor activities. That’s why I keep the shop as tidy and cozy as I can. Its people like yourself who are the customers who’ll give me the best business a man could ever ask for. Yet I wait for something that will be the ultimate challenge of my career. You see I have yet to find it.” Mrs. Kepler tried to smile as she squinted to read the old man’s name tag. “So Mr Kaufman I think I have your challenge. Have you ever tinkered with a music box?” “No Madam I don’t think I have. Music boxes are quite the rare find here in the states. Back home they’re all the range or I hear in the big cities the children are quite attracted to them, infatuated with the idea of the challenge of creating one and tuning the innards.” Mrs. Kepler was interested in all of this, but she honestly didn’t have the patience to listen to the old man’s ramble. Yet there was common courtesy that kept her from interrupting. Until finally she couldn’t take it any longer. “Well I have an interesting preposition for you. This proposition can highlight everything you just spoke to me of. I have this,” she dumped the contents of the sack containing the music box parts on the clear countertop and fished the figurine out of her pocket. Mr. Kaufman eyed the whole pile eagerly. Then looked up at her with his eyes alight with the passion of one who wishes to fix. “Name your price, Mrs. Kepler.” She realized her purse was still at the bar with either the detective or whoever had found it. She put her hands into her pocket and found a nickel. “I really don’t think you’d do all the work required on that sorry piece of work for a nickel, now would you?” Mr. Kaufman drummed his fingers on the table. He wasn’t at all like the man who’d been running the crime ring in Goldren. Yet the gesture provoked the same sort of calculation as he weighed the risks with the benefits. Finally he decided he would take the oppurtunity. He snatched the nickel from her outstretched hand and waved it at her astonished face. “If you tell anyone about this . . . my business will suffer. This is just between you and me.” Mrs. Kepler finally let her face relax. “Well you make sure that no one sees you lugging around these pieces. They’re a lot more valuable when the box is completed and whatever you do, don’t play the melody until either myself or someone I send is here.” Mr. Kaufman frowned. Then with a flick of his hand he bowed to her. “As you wish.” “Mrs. Kepler heard the bell of the door jingle behind her. The customer seemed engrossed in the many Christmas ornaments that were strung in the display case that was to the left of where Mrs. Kepler was making the transaction. Mr. Kaufman hurriedly transferred the contents of her 30


music box to one of his store work sacks and trashed the paper sack she’d been using. Mrs. Kepler waved nonchalantly and left the shop without a backward glance. She could feel the eyes of the customer as they bore into her back, but she didn’t turn. She kept walking forward. The cool air misted her breath into a foam that portruded from her mouth. It reminded of her old smoking vice and she longed to undulge, yet she had no green dollars to spend. She wandered aimlessly around the town until she found herself at one of the only open inns. The inn was on the edge of the town and seemed dark, dank, and unkept. The neon sign flashed onimously as the vacancy sign suddenly lit. She took it as a sign and ventured inside. The front desk was lit by an old fashioned kerosene lantern and was empty save for a brass call bell. It was like one of the ones on a silly alarm clock that would shrilly tinker you awake. It was as if no one was about so Mrs. Kepler decided to give it a go. She rang it. A door swung open with a loud creak as an a pleasant middle aged woman burst through carrying washing laundry and a troubled watery smile. “Hullo. I s’pose you’re here because of the vacancy?” Mrs. Kepler nodded and was about to open her mouth to ask the price when“You know that room up there has the oddest lease imaginable. The last man who stayed there gave rent enough to last the whole year, yet he left like a ghost just a few moments ago. He wasn’t at all a pleasant sort of guy you’d or a youngin like yerself would be liked to seen around with. I mean sure handsome boys come ‘ere all the time, yet not all of them can charm the girl or be a nice man and be polite and everything associated with such gentlemen. He was rude and knew more than he’d tell ya. So if you want the room I won’t charge ya for it. I bet we’ve already got a deal now don’t we missy?” Mrs. Kepler opened her mouth then closed it. “Too wonderstruck by your good luck now aren’t you? I wouldn’t have it any other way. Here’s your key Madam and its up the stairs and to the left and as you see I’ve got a lot of work to do and no visitors after one. I’ll be snoring and you’d better be too. Nothing funny or loud to wake my other clients. Mind your manners; I don’t really have the wits to take on another rude clients.” Mrs. Kepler’s mouth finally un-glued and she said what had been on her toungue for ages. “Thank you.” “Why . . . you’re very welcome. I like you.” She chuckled heartily and laughed boisterously as Mrs. Kepler made her way up the stairs to her room. The stairs were carpeted and a dusty gold color. The stairs weren’t creaky or run down like the rest of the town. They weren’t luxurious or anything fancy. They were just right-homey and supple. The interior decor was all the same sort of mellowy yellow earth tones. The wood was maple and polished and the furniture was in all of the right corners and dusted and well-positioned. Mrs. Kepler was greeted by the number thirteen when she came to the door the inn keeper had given her instructions to. “Well if I was superstitious I wouldn't dare walk into this room,” though Mrs. Kepler, “however, as that I have common sense and a purpose to get rest for the night whilst Mr. Kaufman fixes the 31


music box. I will be levelheaded.” She cautiously turned the key and shoved the door open expecting someone to burst out screaming. “I am the puppet of my own imagination,” she thought gloomily as she flipped the light on and walked inside The bed was hurried done and was sloppily sheeted. The sheets were flopped on top of the bed instead of being tucked inside. Out of some motherly instinct, she fixed the bedding and set the room to rights. It was pitiful. The landlady needn’t have even tried to make her feel comfortable when she could do all the work necessary for that endeavor herself. She hung her coat in the closet and sank into a bubble bath drawn for herself. It took about a minute for the bath to fill up so she sat on the edge of the tub and tried to think of what to do. When that didn’t work she indulged herself in the ample supply of knitting magazines and wondered why no one would ever think of putting them in their bathrooms. She fipped through the various patterns as she soaked herself in the warm bath. The experience proved to relax her much more effectively than writing or engaging in any of her normal writing pursuits. When she grew tired of that, she wrapped herself in the bathrobe and decided to turn in for the night. There was nothing she could do. She couldn’t call her husband without insinuating a huge scandal over her actions-why she was here? why did she leave the house to go talk to a man she hardly knew? why did she ever think that she could be independent in the world without a man who would guide her? She couldn’t go home, that wasn’t an option when both her husband was at home and there had been that incident with the man in the woods who had given her the figurine for the music box. That wasn’t at all safe. She could go to Mr. Kaufman’s or the bars as they had both probably already closed their doors and turned in for the night. Mr Kaufman was probably hard at work trying to solve the mystery of fixing the aged music box. She didn’t know where Erma was-in retrospect she seemed like the least of her worries-a daughter who was really in the need of a better mother than her. She sighed as her head started to hurt from overthinking and over analuyzing the situation. The root of all the problems centered on that goddamed detetcive. Why had she talked to him? Why had she bought the music box in the first place. She thought of an old saying, “Let dead dogs lie.” She retorted, “Well there really wasn’t a sign that the dogs were dead when they turned up on my doorstep. I didn’t ask for an adventure or try for anything other than seerving justice for the poeple of Goldren.” Mrs. Kepler finally gave up and decided to sleep on it. She could do nothing tonight. There was no possible way she could fly or reverse time or never have woken up today. She squeezed her eyes shut and waited for the death of sleep to grip her.

32


Chapter 5 Whilst Mrs. Kepler was asleep work was a foot elsewhere. This ‘work’ was in criminality. Forewarned the work involved the only qualified detective in the whole region that was mainly farming shanties and grazing Helford cattle. Yes, you’ve probably already guessed his real identity: The man: Detective Andy Sanders He actually really liked Mrs. Kepler. He liked her a lot more than he would ever admit to anyone Most of all himself. He liked her wit. He liked her smile. And most of all he loved that she loved his love of mysteries and most of all solving them. Or more specifically mysteries and the art of solving them. She was the crowning jewel of one of his greatest joys. She could compete with his intellect and in a town of daft unimportant people she stood out like a sore thumb. Most of the people here were illiterate as rabbits. Worst of all they were proud of it. He liked that she reminded him of home. His brother gave him her lowdown: “You like that chit. She was the goddamn smartest girl I e’er knew bro. ‘Fore she meet that James Kepler she could have been anythin’ fancy she wanted to be. A doctor. A lawyer. Even a fancier detective than you, big brother. Now you know I ain’t at all bright, but whew that James isa daredevil and a crackpot and everything that’s wrong with this town. She shoulda never gotten funny with him.” “You talk like you know her. But you never were steady with her.” “No one was, Any you think that lady would want to be with some farm boy when she could go big city and kiss our country asses sayanara. She was too smart. She was too pretty. She was just too goddamn good to have to do with any of us. Riddle me this: turned down the star quarterback so she could study for a number test.” “I bet she was in some advanced mathematics-calculus or something akin to that kind of upper level thinking. That’s impressive for a girl.” “You got hots for a married girl.” Mr. Sanders did something he hadn’t done since he was ten years old; He blushed. “Why would I . . . like . . . I mean her daughter is sleeping in my car next to her handbag and I know where she is . . . all the time because she’s one of my suspects.” “You’re confused. That’s a married woman with a kid . . . why would she go around committing felonious crimes. Most of the time that I see her all she’s doin’ is just takin’ care of that kid. You need to think harder. I think its the husband. He’s got so much more mystery than she does on a Sunday church day. She’s just a housewife. James never lets her out of the house. He knows that she’s too smart for him. He knows that he’s not good enough for her and that she deserves better. Trust me I’m the bartender. I’m the one who’s there for his drunk rants-I know all his tears, his insecurities, he’s one big mess of man.” “I should interview you properly. This isn’t the procedural method of getting evidence. This isn’t protocol so just shut up. I need to put together a report with the pie bits I’ve scavenged. Please refrain from handing me a pie that’s full of sawdust.” “Sawdust?” 33


“I’m just attempting to formulate something I can to get you to shut the hell up. Do you want to have a formal interview at what is it now . . .” He glanced at his watch, then continued, “Jesus its midnight already. Well back to what was going to be the plan?” He raised his eyebrows. “Well fancy sheriff Andy sir . . . what do ya think?” “No. Its time for bed and a nice cold beer and someone to turn on the furnace.” “Furnace? What are we England? Andy you need to slow down all this apy work is running you down and you’re losing focus on the simple easy boy things you should be worried about.” “Like what? Cole, enlighten me . . . you work sixteen hours in a bar in your hometown. You haven’t lived anywhere else besides this hellhole and you still live with Mom.” “Well someone’s got his hands in his pants.” Cole interjected playfully as he turned and flicked off the open sign. The neon blared, then flickered as a collective groan could be heard around the room. “Enough boys, its time to close up shop. I got to wipe up your mess. Sandusky stop it with the slot machines you’ll lose like you always do and take some of that money home to your wife and kids.” There was a ruckus as the other miners started to lecture Sandusky as he slid his wallet back into his hunter’s jacket. “Hey bud, you keep your smarmy mouth to wiping those beer mugs. You ain’t tellin me what I do with my goods. I is a grown man ya hear.” “Loud, Sandusky. Now go home. Your wife called me to tell you. I ain’t ever in nobody’s business. So go home and talk to your goddamn wife. If you wanna pick a fight with me go to the bar in Goldren and I swear they’ll put a prison sentence on ya for all the stupid things you do around here.” Sandusky grunted in reply as he slammed the door behind him. A little cloud of cold air rushed in through the bottom. “Now dear brother where were we?” “We were discussing what makes me better than you.” “Your smart. Smarter than I’ll ever be.” “Cole, I was just making a god to honest joke and I didn’t mean that. Or even in that diraction what-so-ever. You’re smarter than me in ways that are moree useful.” “Like what-I failed out of high school. I got divorced and my kid lives in Connecticut and hates my guts. Dad died because I forgot to pay the bills on his medications and Mom’s hanging on by a thread named Cole. I ain’t worth it. I could never go and be a big city boy or some smart ass detective like you trying to woo a girl who’s just as hot and attractive and everything a woman should be kind of girl. We shouldn’t be talking about this.” Cole continued wiping the glasswire until it shown its normal dull brass color. Both were quiet until Andy cleared his throat. “Cole, I should be-” “Yeah, you should. Go out the back door. I had my boys park it in the back lot so the miners didn’t have a chance to jack it or mess it up. It’s a nice car by the way. I suppose you bought it in New York like everything else.” Mr. Sanders knew he had to get back to his case and as he turned the knob to exit the premises, Cole called over his shoulder, “She’s at the inn at the edge of town by the way, in case you wanted to see her or something. You know her kid’s sleeping in your back seat you should give her it back-the kid.” 34


Mr. Sanders thought for a moment then nodded. He surveyed the lot before unlocking his car. Then he slipped on his shades and checked out the kid snoozing in his backseat in the rearview mirror. “Huh, not a bad looking kid,” he thought to himself, “I wonder how our kids would look like.” Then he shook his head and started the car. During the drive to the inn, his greatest fear was that the kid would wake up. Each time he played the scene in his head, the girl would rise up and attack him, then the car would veer onto the side road and somehow a police car would appear and he would be arrested for kidnapping her. “Kidnap-schnidnap, I’m taking her back to her mother, that’s a pretty noble calling right there, right Andy?” He looked into the rearview mirror and saw that the kid was drooling on her stuffed unicorn. She was kind of pathetic . . . and worthless looking . . . and also sucking her thumb. He wrinkled his nose, then pulled into the motel. The vacancy sign was still flashing, however, Mr. Sanders had no interest what so ever in something or a room in such a-what should we call it to be nice-drab hotel. He walked in and rang the bell at the counter. When no one answered, he rang it again, and again. Then worried that the captive over his shoulder would wake up. He mounted the buttery stairs and noticed that there was a placard on each door stating who was inside. “Well,” he thought to himself, “this was easier than I thought. It should be a snap. I can dump off my baggage and leave this dump with clean hands.” He stalked down the hall, ignoring the silly photographs of the innkeeper’s cartoonish ancesters, varrious rather eccentric framed photographs of deceased cats and everywhere he stepped there was an audible crunch of dried flower petals and cleaning products. “This innkeeper is definately a woman and old and most likely unmarried with a number of well-fed cats.” Unknowingly he’d said the prior sentence aloud. “Well heaven forbid the day you get married or meet me-” He jumped, then brought a finger to his lips. He whispered loudly-loud enough as he could be considered still whispering and avoid the waking of his slumbering luggage. “Why don’t you yell it while you are at it. Isn’t it enough that you’ll wake up a little girl who’s supposed to be with her mother, but is with me?” The shadow moved, shifting the bulge on its side to the other, then moved into the light to reveal a huge homely woman with a gigantic laundry basket. “Well heaven forbid that whoever gave birth to you forgot to teach you how to keep your thoughts to yerself or your own things tidy. What are you doin’ wandering around these hallowed halls in the middle of the night. By Jude, its witching hour and that child of yours ought to be in bed as well as yerself.” “See mam, that’s why I’m here. This girl-child of God-is not mine. She belonged to-” “Oh yes, I never forget a boarder, she reeks of the woman in room thirteen who turned in not an hour ago. I’m pretty sure she forgot to lock the door so now you’re in luck aren’t you mister. A jackpot oppurtunity, if I do say so myself.” “Yes.” Mr. Sanders felt Erma begin to stir. Then he started to walk towards the door. The innkeeper called over her shoulder. “Now I’ll have no funny business, you come in and out.” He nodded weakly toward her retreating figure as he got the door open and slinked inside. He froze as the door clicked close behind him. It creaked monstrously, then shut. He cursed under his breath. He carefully slid his feet out of his shoes then felt around the room 35


for the bed. He felt something soft, then realized it was flesh-Mrs. Kepler was alseep, knocked out cold. He stumbled around the room then finding the other side of the bed, set down his charge. Erma started to cry; he rolled her over and dropped his coat on her. Her cry died in her throat as she sighed. He attempted to think what he should do. He couldn’t leave without his coat or the kid would wake up. If the kid woke up then Mrs. Kepler would wake up and ask what the hell he was doing in her bedroom. Then he thought to himself, “What am I doing in a lady’s bedroom? Why am I still here?” He felt around and cautiously sat in what he found was a squashy armchair that when reclined made him feel as if he had still somehow miraculoulsy had retained some sense of sanity. The moon shone in through the curtain and impossibly he felt like a supervillain waiting for the perfect moment to kill the innocents. There was a yellowing paperback on the windowsill. He mouthed the title: ​the Kingdom of Tulips​ by Nancy Kepler. He flipped it open to a random page and started to read: Edeline sat on the shore of the flowing river and mourned over the stupidity of what she’d done. He stared at the page and chuckled to himself. He thought, “Words from the wise, bathed in ironic humor.” She should’ve said no and returned home to her tower. Things would be the same as they’d always been-stuck in the place where there was nothing to mourn or no hope for a future. Then realization slowly dawned on her-hope-she didn’t have to sit here crying on a rock waiting for her prince to come. Maybe he wouldn’t come for a million years and she would drown in her own tears before it would ever be proclaimed in the land that she was the Princess who needed saving. Actually why would she wait? She was flat out tired of all the princess nonsense she could read and fight and curse. Three things that were against the whole shenanigans of what princes wanted their princesses to be like. She wasn’t giddy or liked to frolic in fields of lilacs or take a metaphorical tumble in the hay or preform any of her obligatory woman ‘duties.’ She would rather be a queen who ruled her own kingdom than a puppet who sat by while a man made all the decisions. It was vulgar to think of herself in that kind of a repulsive relationship. She sat up and wiped the dirt off her face with an already soiled handerkeief it would do her no good to use a soiled handkerchief but as no prince had come in the last ten minutes . . . or would probably not appear in the next hour . . . and she wasn’t in the mood to wait days for someone who would most likely tire of her so-called rebellious ways, she straightened her skirts and stood up. The wind started to blow around her as she looked up and saw the huge shape falling out of the sky. The dragon landed eleganted on the dust gathering in his shadow. He roared to announce his presence, then cuddled with Edeline. “You came. When everyone forgets about the Lady in the Clouds . . . she’s saved by her dragon best friend. Gilbert my fine scaly savior. I should find some brandy or some nice 36


reward.” The dragn moaned warily, then culed up around her rock and lay his snout in her lap. In a few moments he was fast asleep. Edeline laughed as she stroked him playfully. Then she soothed her stroked and patted him gently. “You’ve earned a well deserved rest for flying so far o see your stupid princess.” Mr. Sanders sat back in his chair and thought over what he had read. He wondered what it meant. Why had he opened this book or why had the book opened to this specific page or what was he in the room at this specific moment with this specific girl. He sighed, then turned some paged to find something more . . . well what was he looking for? Edline gripped the snout of her good friend and they flew off into the sunset. He wasn’t happy with her choice of company. However, as he was only a dragon, he could not speak or voice his concern for her. He was wiser than time itself yet here was his little charge behaving as if she was queen instead of the little girl she had once been. The battleground was filthy and charred from his fire and his underbelly was scarred and cut. He could faintly make out the archer that had tried to shot him with an arrow. His lungs were coughed up with all the smoke and his nostrils were smothered with it. He could hardly breathe, each breath was labored. and hrsh. He closed the book then furrowed his brow and turned backward until he found the last page: At the end, there was nothing. There were clouds that could speak and the words started making sense.. Queen Edeline sat alone in her chambers and looked into the lonely night. This was the day she would be married to the perfect prince and ride away into the sunset. But she started having her doubts abot the whole ordeal. There was a roar at the window. She ran over in her cumbersome skirts, then she flung it open and laughed for the first time in months. It was a perfect ending . . . . or a perfect beginning. He sighed at her smart town, small girl fancy. “She wants to be out of this . . . she just wants to get out of here and forget this place. This is her book, the Nancy Kepler sleeping in this room,” he thought to himself. He opened the drawer in the room and gasped aloud. Mrs. Kepler started to stir. She curled around her child and started to yawn and stretch as she slowly woke up. She gasped. “What are you . . . Mr. Sanders this isn’t . . . am I your prime suspect? What is the meaning of this? This is my room & . . .” “Wait, wait, wait . . . your daughter was left in my car and I couldn’t just leave her there so I dropped in to the bar and found out where you were. Listen . . . I know that sounds-” Mrs. Kepler sat up and groaned as she looked at the clock. “Its two o’ clock in the morning. I’m tired, utterly exhausted and you think I wamt to be coherent enough to listen to you yell at me. 37


I’m just not in the right frame of mind or mood for this.” “Well Nancy when will you be in the mood for a conversation that deals with the death of your old friend Tabitha Winthrop.” Mrs. Kepler yawned hugely and rolled Ermie over so she could be wrapped more tightly in the blankets. She surveyed the dsamage to her dress and saw that it would need ironing as well as a nice wash to remove her own body odor. “Tabitha isn’t dead, Andy Sanders. I know that for a fact.” “No you don’t; you are making an assumption to cover up you in security over the fact that one of your friends has passed on.” “This is a small town Andy, why would anyone try to kill an old woman who ran an antique shop where everything was valued under ten dollars.” “She had something valuable that she got ahold of and someone who’s playing on the wrong team found out and told her to give it back.” “Why would she go to all the trouble to hide it, if she could just sell it to get rid of it. She would have told me. Maybe not told you, but she would have told me, even if she was in very bad trouble. And honestly, even if there is a crime ring here, how can you be so sure she wouldn’t just get scared and give it to them? She’s not un-intelligent. She would be smarter than that.” “Well as an amateur sleuth you have excellent detective skills and an interesting look on how things are supposed to be versus how they actually are. You’re childish and stupid, but you’re smart and can think more than the illiterate beings in this village.” Mrs. Kepler sighed heavily then started to gather her things. “What are you doing? You can’t just leave.” He screwed up his face in incredulation as he pondered her thought process. He flung his hand up in frustration. “What are you going to do? You can’t go home. I doubt you can just leave without your daughter. Are you going to take the music box with you? It’s the only solid evidence I have beside the charred remains of the old croon who ran the shop in place of your friend Tabitha.” “Well maybe you should look harder.” “Where else should I look? I have a search warrant for your house.” He said matter-of-factly. “I could just squirrel out all your secrets and publish them in a top secret FBI report that will include scandalous details about your private life.” Mrs. Kepler rolled her eyes. “This . . . do you know what this is? This is childish . . . we’re two people who shouldn’t be trying to solve a mystery together. Why did fate even try to make this work.” There was a rough scratching at the door. They both turned. Mr. Sanders pulled his gun from its holster and slowly went to the door. A bead of sweat rolled down his neck as he opened the door. “Its a package.” He said finally. “Oh well its obviously for me so you should get out of here while you can and just leave me to open the contents in private.” “It could be a bomb?” “So what?” “You could die.” “You’re just being your usual insufferable self, Mr Sanders.” Mrs. Kepler picked up Erma 38


and heaved her into her arms. Erma snuggled closer to Mrs. Kepler and started to breathe more regularly than she had before. She collected her things and started to check the drawers. “Did you leave something in the drawers?” “I came very late last night, maybe I don’t know for certain do I’m just checking to be extra sure.” “Did you know this letter was here before last night?” He brandished a letter from where he had sealed it in his pocket. The name was typewritten: Mrs. Nancy Kepler. She snatched it from him and placed Erma in the desk chair for a few moments. “No I didn’t know it was here. Where did you find this? What does this mean?” She tore it open and started to scan the contents. “Well since I found it, I think I’m entitled to hear it aloud. You’re daughter’s asleep so even if it is the most dreadful-” “My darling Nancy, I . . . um regret to inform you that I have to leave for a while. I know we had our planned tea time today-” “THIS IS SUPPOSEDLY FROM THE WOMAN WHO DIED.” Nancy yelled. “Well if I may continue.” “Well carry on, she could be alive! Oh what a wonderful-” He gushed with weird joy. Then he coughed to cover his laugh. “That was joy to a morbid occasion. It says here that she’s been called to a psychiatric hospital in Belgium that specializes in woman with peculiar disorders.” She pointed to the said text on the letter and made him look with lingering precision on the accompanying address. “Well?” “I think we’re going to Belgium. You and me and that kid.” “That is grammatically incorrect and she has a name you know.” “Well Nancy, I’m sorry to inform you that you never told me what it was so what the hell do I call her besides ‘your daughter’ or ‘that kid of yours,’ I don’t have any other term to call her. If she was an animal I could refer to her as it, but as she is not, I call her that little girl.” “Her name is Ermengarde. But we call her Erma—my husband and I.” “But you call her Ermie.” Mrs. Kepler gave him a weird look. “How do you know that?” He smiled. “Whenever she talks in her sleep and refers to you-she says your dialogue in her sleep. I know it’s your because that kid has the best impressions I’ve ever seen-she’s excellent at it and she’s completely unconscious.” “Yes well she has a mother who taught her all those things.” “Enough, you should go check the package outside, Mrs. Kepler.” Detective Sanders muttered irritably. Mrs. Kepler sighed then walked to the door and retrieved the package. She sat down on the mattress and put her head in her hands. Detective Sanders took a seat next to her. “Hey its okay. Everything will work out.” He put his hand on her back and tried to soothe her. “I’m trying to believe that. I keep telling myself that. I told myself that every time something sad happened to me.” “I’ve had my share of those too, Mrs. Kepler.” “You could elaborate.” Mrs. Kepler sighed heavily, then shifted so Sanders hand no 39


longer fell on her shoulder. “You realize how wrong this is? I should have never let you take advantage of me like this. You slept in the same room as me. The folks in town will think I have loose morals and Jim would be furious if he found out that . . . this happened—” “Mrs. Kepler I’m from the city, country morals have no bearing on how I choose to act or conduct my investigations. The reason I was called here isn’t to deflower you. I want to solve this, get my promotion, and leave things in this town better than it was when I came.” Mrs. Kepler held his eyes as he lost his train of thought. Sanders cleared his throat and looked up at the ceiling. After a minute of silence he looked back at her and stood. He cleared his thorat. “Maybe I should go.” Mrs. Kepler nodded then picked up Ermie and rested Ermie’s sleeping head against her shoulder. “I think we should all go.”

40


Chapter 6

Mrs. Kepler drove home quietly with Ermie asleep in the backseat. She was halfway home when she remembered the music box. She slammed on the breaks and turned back. She wiped tears the whole way there without grasping why she was crying. The radio was tuned to one of those silly love songs and she could listen to it. It was just imperfect enough that she was married. Her thoughts started to scatter as she pulled into Mr. Kaufman’s shop. She quickly parked in the lot before locking the foors with ermie still sleeping inside. She ran to the store. The bell above range with a quick merry tingle. Mr. Kaufman turned with an aged, “Yes, who is it? I’m in business.” Then when seeing who it was his aged face broke into a smile. “You . . . er the one with zat music box, eh? I have it.” He left her and quickly came back with one of his demin work sacks. “Come come here its finished.” Mrs. Kepler walked the distance from the door to the counter. Mr. Kaufman’s dry hands grasped hers in a twitching urgency. His soft voice was trembling as he whispered, “Take this far away from here. I don’t want your money any more than is given. There vas a man here who vanted to have it. He offered me a tooth and an eye for it. You hear good. Take it var awear from anything here. That box needs to stay safe. There is something more in that than you know child.” With his last words he shooed her off: “Go, go, and godspeed.” Godspeed. The word was uttered low and was otherworldly. She was frantic when she started the car and speed away. Then as she hit the highway she slowed down and realized she had nowhere to go. Mrs. Kepler pulled over to the side of the road and fingered the flour sack that carried the music box. She knew Mr. Kaufman had kept to his word by not listening to the music box without her around. Well, she didn’t know for sure, however, she could find out fast if she tried. Mrs. Kepler fingered the twine to open the bag, then . . . . “MOM?” Mrs. Kepler winced. She slowly turned her head to a rather irritable Ermie who looked spent as she rubbed her eyes. Mrs. Kepler’s lips tried to tickled from them a smile. “Sweetheart, you’re up. It’s about time too.” “Mom? Why aren’t we at home? Why are we driving around without any bre’fas’?” “You mean breakfast, right Ermie?” “Yeah.” “Well if you’re hungry we should stop somewhere and get a bite to eat. Shouldn’t we hungry grizzly bear?” Ermie laughed then imitated the animal she’d been compared to. “Roar I’m hungry like a 41


gargantuan grizzly bear who needs a Snazzy Meal.” “A Snazzy Meal?” Mrs. Kepler looked back at her daughter and bit her lip. “Sweetie I don’t think McGruff is open yet. What about stickey honey pancakes at the diner?” Ermie crossed her arms as she started crying. “Nooooo, I wanna Snazzy Meal?” Mrs. Kepler sighed and started the car again. She waited for a gap in the traffic before swerving back into the flow. She waited a minute for Ermie’s sobs to lessen. “Do you want to go home?” “No, I wanted a Snazzy Meal, Mom” Ermie said firmly as she sat up in her seat. “Okay.” Mrs. Kepler sighed and turned onto a ramp to exit. She stopped at the streetlight and contemplated whether she should show the music box in its completed form to Detective Sanders. She drummed her fingers on the steering wheel as she thought more and more. “Mom, green light.” “Thank you sweetie.” Mrs. Kepler turned quicker than usual, then sighed as she turned into a gas station to refuel. Then she finally made up her mind that she could and it wouldn’t hurt her to show him. “Mom?” “What are you thinking about?” “Why?” “Casuse you’re thinking awful hard bout it and you never do.” “Well I’m thinking that there’s this thing that I have that can help someone else figure something out and I don’t know if I should—” “Give it to um?” Ermie furrowed her brow. The expression was odd on the face of a five-year old. She looked more seven; more of a higher level thinker than a lower level one. Overall it was errie and reminded Mrs. Kepler strangely like Ermie was in the midst of a stressful bowel movement. “I think you should.” Mrs. Kepler’s hands slackened on the steering wheel as she wondered how wise her actions were. Was it even rational to take advice from a child? “I think so too.” Mrs. Kepler unfastened her seat belt then turned to face Ermie rather than stare at her in the rear view mirror. “Tell you what, huh? I’m going to go inside that little gas convenience store. We’re gonna get some candy, a lollypop, and some directions to do what Momma’s gonna try to do. We’re going to find some place we’ve never been before then we’ll see how everything’s going to work.” Ermie nodded. Then she made a flustered sound. “Mom?” “Yes sweetie?” “Why are you still in a pardy dress?” “Well,” Mrs. Kepler laughed as she stared down at the darkened velvet. “I didn’t have any other clothes this morning so that’s why. I had a nightgown, but that’s silly to wear and too long to drive in.” Ermie nodded slowly. “Okay.” She reached down and plucked a rag doll from the floor of the car and started to play with it. Mrs. Kepler sighed as she exited the vehicle, then entered the convenience store. The man at the counter was clad in a sloppy striped polo and a nametag that looked as if it has survived 42


many trips through a laundry machine. He flipped some of the dreadlocks from his face as he straighened from mopping behind the counter as Mrs. Kepler entered the store and picked a small bag of chocolates from the racks of items that were displayed in the window. “Hell-o Mam, what can I do for you today?” He unlocked the cash register and waited for her to speak. “Well,” Mrs. Kepler began, “these to start with.” She handed over the bag. “Your name is Theodore?” He entered in the merchandise number from the yellow sicky tag into the cash ragister before responding. “My manger accidentally wrote the wrong name on my nametag and I go by Theo. I’m in a band with like four other dudes and a babe named Sam. Theo is a lot more Rock and Roll than Theodore.” Mrs. Kepler slowly nodded. Theo handed her the candy bag as Mrs. Kepler slipped him a five-dollar bill. “Oh, I see. I’m on pump number four and—” Theo stuck the bill into the register and held up a hand. “Yah Mam I can like totally do that for you. I’ll tell Kelley to get that done for you. If you need anything else, I’ll be still as a statue. I’m you’re man.” Mrs. Kepler smiled at his youth—not that he was that much younger than she was. Theo reminded Mrs. Kepler of when she’d been young and as fearless as he was. Mrs. Kepler leaned against the counter, “Well Theo, do you happen to know where the Sanders family resides.” Theo adjusted his cap and tugged at his polo as he thought. “Uhhh, I could go get my manager. But . . . he’s not super into being disturbed when he’s doing inventory. ” Suddenly Theo perked up, “No way, you mean like Davy Sanders who jams with us?” Mrs. Kepler couldn’t take the confusion from her face as she wondered whether ‘Davy’ Sanders supported a slouchy dreadlocks hairdo as well. Then she smiled. P ​ retend you’re talking to Ermie, Mrs. Kepler reasoned to avoid loosing her temper. “Well, does . . . this Davy have a more respectable brother who is visiting from New York?” Theo jumped up and town and dropped his mop in excitement. Then he flung his hand up and caught his mop in a sort of lazy rock-esque guitar finish. “I have found a connection. You’re like part of my tribe now, cause you’re people know my people.” “Alright Theo, do you have directions?” “Let me get you a map. Who should I say is coming so you don’t wind up at a vacant house or worse . . . you know he’s a hippie and we’re not like . . . uh, normal people don’t really get our way of life so when we have company we usually give each other a heads up.” “Well I’m going to see Detective Sanders, not Davy Sanders.” Theo’s face contorted into a comical manifestation of his realization. “Oh, so like lemme check if Andy’s there. I would not recommend Davy if you’re just gonna like hang with the cop bro.” Mrs. Kepler waited for Theo to come back and get impatient in the five minutes he was gone. She was fiddling nervously with her keys and kept glancing outside to see that Ermie’s little head was still bobbing as she played with her rag doll. Theo emerged smoothing his hair and righting his cap. “Hey Mam, they’re all there and I marked the place on a map whilst I was conversing with my avocado friend. Davy’s my avacado friend because he’s sweet and mellow. Is that all you need? You’re gas is already 43


pumped out?” Mrs. Kepler took the map off the counter top and waved from the doorway. “It was nice to meet you Theo. I hope everything is—” “The world is making sure my energies raise up your energies and—” “THEO—what in the hell . . . are you speaking in freakenese again? I told you to--” The flustered manager appeared from the stock room and started to berate Theo as he waved his cap enthusiastically. “I hope we meet again. You could become a disciple of—” But Mrs. Kepler didn’t hear the rest as she was already outdoors clearing her head of the bizarre. She walked to her car and started her engine. Ermie looked up from her doll game and was exuberant. “Mommy you’re back. I was scared you would talk to that monster all day.” Mrs. Kepler laughed then turned to focus on the squiggly lines the attendant had drawn to indicate directions. She followed the road with her fingers then realized that the Sanders farm was just off the highway. “Ermie, you know—” “What Mom?” “Some people are very intelligent on paper and can’t speak a proper sentence without commiting a grammatical error.” “That makes you angry?” “No it makes me sad.” “That’s okay cause whatever makes Mom sad makes me sad too. So we’ll be sad together.” Mrs. Kepler took in a deep breath and turned onto Route 46. “Mom?” “Yes Sweetie.” “I forgot where we’re going.” “We’re going to see Mr. Sanders. He’s going to need something Mommy has.” Mrs. Kepler then remembered she’d forgotten to give Ermengarde the candy she’d picked out. “Sweetie, I got you these so you’ll not be as grizzly hungry when we come to the Sanders place.” Ermie snatched the opened bag of candy from Mrs. Kepler’s hand and spilled a few on the car’s floor. “I won’t eat them. I know Mom they’ll be the end of Erm.” “Okay. Just put them in the bag when you’re done.” They drove in almost silence. The only sound was the radio blaring from show tunes to folk music. Ermie was too young to have a preference to what she referred to ask ‘the growed up songs.’ They all blended in her ears. Mrs. Kepler couldn’t find a heart to listen to romance or songs about family. She also had to watch to make sure the station was appropriate for a child. The relief was present in both as they turned onto the rocky gravel driveway. Mrs. Kepler was forced to drive a good twenty minutes before a violently colored farmhouse came into view with two brothers sat smoking a Native Indian pipe. Mr. Andy Sanders sat looking more relaxed than Mrs. Kepler had ever seen him. He held her eyes for a long moment before his brother stood up and let out a whoop. Ermie sat up on her knees on the seat to see what was happening. “Mom why did he do that?” Mrs. Kepler cleared her throat and swallowed to regain her composure. “Well some silly boys never grow into gentlemen. They stay little boys.” 44


Mr. Sanders pushed his brother inside the house with the pipe and told him to take a bath and bring out a glass of water for the lady. He walked down the inclined earthen path in his business shoes and tapped on the driver seat window. Mrs. Kepler raised an eyebrow before cranking it down. Mr. Sanders lowered his head so their faces were closer. The distance was ibviously unconfortabel for him. Mrs. Kepler inched back into the car. “Do you know one day you should let me call you Nancy.” Mrs. Kepler looked at him confused. “That wasn’t a question?” “No, it wasn’t rhetorically speaking. It was just something you should do. It was an observance of what is.” “Your opinion then?” Mrs. Kepler countered. “Should we be having this conversation with your daughter present?” “Should I feel comfortable being at your home? Or the better question, is it safe to walk into the house of a hazy free bird brother and leave a child unprotected? Ermie scares easy.” Mr. Sanders gave her an incredulous look then turned to the subject of the conversation. “Now Ermie are you scared of the man who moseyed into my house.” Ermie looked down at her rag doll sheepishly. “Yeah” Mr. Sanders sighed. Then he turned to Mrs. Kepler who was tapping her fingers against the steering wheel so she wouldn’t be tempted to bit them in her nervousness. He raised his eyebrows then leaned closer. Mrs. Kepler shied back in astonishment. “”What on earth do you think you’re doing?” “Well seeing that I should be getting my suitcase, we are going for a drive with your mysterious package. Then I have another brother who has a loft above his apartment. You, me, and Ermie—” “You, Ermie, and I—” Mrs. Kepler corrected nervously. “I don’t like you this close to me. It makes me self conscious and uncomfortable.” “You’re still wearing the dress from our evening that never was finished. We should come back to that Kepler. Do you know I’ve said before that you should call me Andy. It would make everything a lot more simpler.” “Why? Its easier to keep you at a distance if its Detective Sanders. Andy is not something a mother calls a friend.” Mr. Sanders nodded. “But Nancy is something a friend named Andy can call his friend Nancy. I never said anything about becoming intimate acquaintances. You’re also an independent woman Mrs. Kepler. Your life doesn’t have to be dictated by one man you call husband.” Mrs. Kepler twisted her lips in a half scowl. She wasn’t quite sure how to react to that. “Its not you who’ll be ordering me around too. I am independent. However, I’m rational enough to see that I have a daughter as well who needs a nurturing environment. I’m not a jungle cat whose going to smoke and consume copious amounts of illegal substances to live in true independence as this generation dictates is . . . hazy freedom.” Her eyes fell on Davy who emerged with Detective Sanders suitcase half-clothed. Mr Sanders opened the door to Mrs. Kepler’s car and bade her hand for her to get out. She hesitated. She could feel there was a crossroads in that moment. He was really giving her a 45


choice. She could return home to Jim and forget all about the mystery they’d been wrapped in. She could close the door and drive away. Maybe she could just drive off into the sunset like a romantic hero from the movies. It would be the freest moment. His eyes softened as he guessed her thoughts. His hand opened. Then she gripped his hand tighter. This was her choice. “My car will be easier to escape notice.” Mrs. Kepler nodded. She stood shakily on her party heels then opened the door for Ermie to hop out. Ermie gripped her doll tighter. She looked confused by her surroundings. But there was trust too. She knew her mother would never but her in deliberate danger. Mrs. Kepler scooped her up as Mr. Sanders led her to his car. He pointed out a carpenter bag in the back. “Some of my mother’s old clothes are in that. They were cleaned out after she died. If we go back, you’ll be in danger if you go as you are.” He took a long look at her shoes, then his eyes flicked back up to hers. “Anyways, you’ll never get anywhere in those heels. They are very,” He cleared his throat, “unsuitable for our task that we will embark on very soon.” Mrs. Kepler slipped them off and donned the penny loafers he’d provided for her. Ermie sat in the backseat with a sigh as she’d been stuck in cars all morning. She wasn’t excited for another hour drive. Mrs. Kepler sifted through the carpenter bag throughout the hour drive. She foound an alarming amount of crosswords and broached the question to Mr. Sanders. He laughed. “When I was young my old habits constituted of crosswords—you know those Sunday crosswords they print. Well after my father had read the paper and was disposed of it. My mother, god rest her soul, would . . . em cut out the crossword and give em to me to see how fast I could complete it. I was kind of a feisty kid and I liked dynamite and action so it would keep me working for an hour or so where she could sit and knit and not worry about one boy blowing himself or some pig up. But after a while it got to the point where I could finish em in ten minutes. I was a sharp kid and it just amazed her those things like that came easy to me so she would keep them as memories. She’d write something small about what I’d done that week on the back and when she passed, god rest her soul, we found them.” “I bet that was a nice surprise. Find all this in these moth eaten clothes. Well not all moth eaten. She was good with patterns. I like this city pattern. I bet she got this from ​Good Housekeeping or the ​Lady’s Handbook. Church ladies would be itching their husbands to get a hold of some of these.” Mr. Sanders curled his lips. “I suppose so. However, in the city the women don’t usually run after patterns. Everything is ready made. They go shoppin for clothes instead of groceries or even to the general store. They have maids to do all that for em.” “I would prefer to know what produce is being used for my food preparation. It could be stale or rotten and no one knows if the chef used it. I’ve heard that too. That city gals have chefs to do all of that for them.” Mr. Sanders nodded. “It could be just as easily poisined.” He pointed out as he looked back to switch lanes. Mrs. Kepler considered this. “That’s very true. As a city cop I bet that’s what’s on your mind. The murder cases are said to be more intense.” “Yes. Its important to watch what is given and the placement of one’s wine. Now enough with 46


the city talk. Ermie what color do you prefer?” “I don’t know.” Ermie admitted with a shrug. She didn’t look up from her rag doll. Mr. Sanders broached a different subject. “What about that doll then? Does it have a name? Why are you so interested in it?” “Dolly? Doll’s telling me stories. Doll’s name is Hannah.” “Why is Dolly named Hannah?” “Well,” Mrs. Kepler cut in, “Hannah’s the name of her favorite picture book character. You know Hannah Ultimer . . . ? I think there’s a cartoon.” “No I’m not familiar with children’s book as well as I used to be. It’s a familiar concept. Yet I don’t pick out the book quite as an individual concept. I’ll have to think to remember exactly.”

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Chapter 7

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My dear mystery