Authors: Gayle Trent
“Buckle your seatbelt.” She shook her hair out of her
eyes as she looked into the rearview mirror and backed out of the driveway. “Of
them. I’m irritated with you…but not enough to turn
down your homemade brownies. Besides, I imagine I’ll be old and vain one of
these days myself.”
I knew she was baiting me, and I managed to stay off the
hook. “They’re good…the brownies. I had one for breakfast. But I’m sending the
rest for you and Sunny. I’d eat them all if I didn’t.”
Faye glanced at the clear plastic box I held on my lap.
“That doesn’t look like a full batch of brownies to me. Either you ate more
than one, or you shared with the sheriff.”
“As a matter of fact, Sheriff Norville
by yesterday evening with a pizza. And, yes, I gave him some of the brownies to
take home. He enjoys my cooking.”
“And what else did you do?” Faye asked. “Besides eat
pizza and brownies, I mean.”
“I don’t ask you what you do on your dates,” I pointed
out. “Not that you’ve had one in a while. But, if you must know, we watched an
Andy Griffith Show marathon. He stayed until almost eleven.”
“Mother!” Faye placed a gloved hand over her breast.
“You entertained a gentleman caller in your home until eleven o’clock, and
you’re concerned about Tansie seeing me help you to the car?” She giggled. “I
could’ve belly danced on the porch in harem pants and a halter top, and she’d
still only be interested in what you and the sheriff were doing so late.”
“Well, don’t you dare tell her,” I said. “And you might
want to give that belly dancing thing some more thought…although somewhere
other than on my front porch. Try the mall maybe. You could make a few bucks
and possibly hook your own gentleman caller.”
We both laughed. I did, especially, because I liked
getting the last word.
* * *
We got to the food bank and soup kitchen and carried our
bags of canned goods inside.
“Well, what have we here?” Doris asked, rushing over to
help us with the bags.
“We’ve brought some things for the food bank,” I said.
“Melvia said she worked in there yesterday, and I realized all of us
M.E.L.O.N.S. have been concentrating on the soup kitchen and neglecting the
food bank. So Faye and I thought we’d help out in there today.”
“Well…thank you,” Doris said. “There’s not that much to
do in there. Frank has his own little system that he doesn’t want anyone
messing with, and I generally leave him to it. But y’all are more than welcome
to work at the food bank if you want to.” She smiled. “If you get bored,
though, keep in mind that we’re right across the hall.”
“We will,” I said.
Faye and I followed Doris—who was carrying my bag—into
the food bank section of the building.
“Frank, darling, look!” Doris called. “I’ve brought you
two more assistants and a couple of bags of food!”
“Two more?” Frank scowled at us. “The one I’ve got now
is more than I need.”
Melvia turned from the shelf she was stocking. “Morning,
Faye! Morning, Myrtle!”
“Good morning, Melvia,” I said.
“Hi,” said Faye.
“I told them that if they get bored, they can come on
back over to the soup kitchen,” Doris said to Frank.
“Then let’s hope they all get bored and be quick about
it. I don’t need a bunch of hens clucking around here all day.” The way Frank
had his bushy eyebrows drawn together over his too-large nose made me certain
that he wasn’t joking.
Still, Doris laughed like a hyena. “He’s like that Don
Could be. I never got the impression that Don Rickles
was joking either.
After putting my bag on the table in front of Frank and
instructing Faye to do the same with hers, Doris waggled her fingers at us and
told us “toodle-loo!”
I figured if Frank was gonna bite anybody’s head off, it
might as well be mine…and it had better not be Faye’s. So I asked, “Where do we
“As you unpack these bags, write down every single item
for me on this pad.” He opened a drawer and took out a yellow legal pad and a
black ink pen. He drew three columns on the pad and labeled them
before sliding the pad and pen across the table toward
I wondered if she looked more trustworthy or capable
than I did. I pushed that thought aside to revisit later as Frank explained the
column to us.
“As you can see, the shelves are labeled,” he said. “For
instance, you can see that canned tuna is located on Shelf B, Row 1.”
“Yes, I see that,” Faye said. “And we simply shelve like
“Right. Whatever you mess up, I’ll fix it tomorrow.” He
stood and retrieved his coat and scarf from a peg near the door.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“Home,” he said. “With all of you here, there’s no need
for me to be.” He put on his coat, wrapped the scarf around his neck, and went
out the backdoor.
“Well, I guess that’s that,” Melvia said, walking over
to us as Faye and I shrugged out of our coats. She lowered her voice. “Nice of
him to leave. Now we can snoop.”
First things first—we put our canned goods on the
shelves and logged them in accordance with Frank’s system. If he came back,
he’d see that everything was in order.
Then we got down to the business of snooping. The ledger
Melvia had seen yesterday was in the same drawer that had held the yellow legal
pad. Melvia said Frank had got it out when someone came in for supplies and
that she’d scanned it over his shoulder.
Faye went to the table, opened the drawer, and took out
the thin, black ledger. She placed it on the middle of the table, and we all
gathered around to look at it.
The names were in alphabetical order, of course. I
wouldn’t have expected anything less of the super-organized Frank. We quickly
found Heather Flint, Opal Grady, and Harry Loomis.
“But that’s not unusual,” I said. “We know all three of
these people come to the soup kitchen and that two of them have had their
identities stolen. We need to see if any of these other people are victims.”
“Including Heather,” Faye said.
I raised my eyes to hers. “That’s right. If Heather’s
identity has been stolen, then she isn’t the thief.”
Faye nodded. “I’ll run her name when I get back to work
tomorrow. And I’ll check several of these others too.” She started to write on
a blank page of the legal pad.
“No!” Melvia snatched the legal pad out of Faye’s hand. “You
can’t write on that! It’s
.” She lowered her voice. “All they have
to do is rub over the indentations with pencil lead, and they’ll know exactly
what you wrote down.”
“She’s right.” I’d seen the same television shows Melvia
had. I got my new pink spiral notebook with the silver Eiffel Tower on the
cover out of my pocketbook and handed it to Faye. “Write in that.”
“Okay. I want to take a couple names from each page so
I’ll get a good sampling,” she said.
I smiled from ear to ear. I was proud of how well Faye
was taking to detective work, and I knew Sunny would be proud too.
The back door opened, and all three of us nearly jumped
out of our skins. An elderly man with a shopping bag came into the large room
and pulled the door closed behind him.
“Is Frank here?” he asked. “He called me yesterday
afternoon and said y’all got in a bag of those old fashioned cream drops. You
know, those chocolate drops with vanilla cream in the middles?”
“Sure,” I said. “I know what you’re talking about. I saw
them when we were stocking shelves a few minutes ago.” I went over to the shelf
and got him the bag of cream drops.
“Thank you. These are fairly hard to come by, so Frank
lets me know when he gets any in.” He put the cream drops into his shopping
“What’s your name?” Faye asked.
“Wilmer,” he said. “Wilmer Doss.”
“Good to meet you, Mr. Doss. I’m Faye, and this is
Myrtle and Melvia.”
“Proud to know you,” said Mr. Doss. “But where’s Frank?
Is he sick?”
“Oh, no,” I said. “We’re just filling in for him so he
could take a couple of hours off.”
“That’s nice of you,” he said. “I know Frank works awful
He went to peruse the shelves and added several other
items to his bag. When he finished, he brought the bag to the table so we could
check his items off the inventory list.
“It appears that Frank runs a pretty tight ship,” Melvia
said. “I’d almost say he goes beyond the call of duty when it comes to writing
things down about folks.”
“What do you mean?” asked Mr. Doss.
“Well, it’s just that he keeps pretty detailed accounts
of everybody’s business.” Melvia shrugged. “Does he really need your address
“He sends us birthday cards, Christmas cards…stuff like
that,” said Mr. Doss. “He’s mighty thoughtful.”
“He must be,” I said. “Talking to you makes me want to get
to know Frank better. He’s always seemed so quiet at church.”
“Well, you know what they say…them still waters run
deep.” Mr. Doss nodded. “Frank is quiet, but he’s a good man. He watches out
“That’s nice,” Faye said.
“It is. You don’t find too many people like that
anymore.” He started toward the door.
Doris poked her head through the door leading into the
hallway. “Hello.” She noticed Mr. Doss. “Oh, hi, Wilmer! Did you get your cream
“Sure did. Thank Frank for me.”
She frowned as she looked around the room. “Where is
“I believe he had to run an errand,” Melvia said. “I’m
sure he’ll be back soon.”
“I suppose I should call him,” Doris said. “It isn’t
like him to up and leave his post like this.”
“If you or Frank needs anything, let me know,” Mr. Doss
said. He opened the door and let a cold blast of air into the room as he left.
As the door closed behind Mr. Doss, Doris’s frown
deepened. “What in the world would make Frank do this? This is inexcusable! Did
he even give you any instructions about how to handle a transaction?”
I handed her the inventory list Frank had made for us
before he left. “We kept track of everything that Mr. Doss took. I’m flattered
that Frank felt confident enough with us to trust us with the food bank while
he ran his errand.”
“What errand?” Doris demanded.
Melvia shrugged. “I figure he didn’t feel like that was
any of our business.”
Doris blew out a breath. “I just came over to tell you
to come over and have your lunch. Since Frank is gone, I suppose I can manage
the food bank for a few minutes.”
“No need,” I said. “Melvia can go on and eat, and then
when she gets back, Faye and I will go. We wouldn’t dream of taking you away
from y our duties in the soup kitchen.”
“Thank you,” she said stiffly. “I’m going to call Frank
and see what’s the matter with him.”
Doris left, closing the door behind her.
“I’m not that hungry,” Melvia whispered. “I can stay and
“No. You go on and eat,” I said. “Faye and I will stay
here and snoop. When you get back, we’ll tell you whether or not we found
anything new, and you can take up where we left off while we eat.”
She nodded. “Sounds like a plan. I’ll hurry.”
“Take your time,” Faye said. “I think we’ve found just
about all we’re going to find here anyway.”
When Melvia left, Faye shook her head. “She really seems
to be getting into this spy stuff, doesn’t she?”
“Yeah. I understand where she’s coming from, though. I
want to see whoever is doing this stopped and brought to justice myself.”
“I do too, Mother.” She glanced at the closed door that
led out into the hallway and then took my elbow and led me to the other side of
the room. “Here’s the thing. If Frank is the identity thief, then Doris
to be in on it too, don’t you think?”
“Well, I think it’s more than likely…but on the other
hand, you hear all kinds of stories about spouses leading double lives and the
other one just dumb as dirt to the whole thing,” I said.
“Maybe so. But I believe they’d have to at least suspect
“I know for a fact that you can keep secrets from the
people you live with,” I said. “You know that china cabinet in the living room?
There’s a blue ginger jar on the top shelf that I’ve stashed money away in for
years. Neither you nor your father ever knew about it.”
“We always knew about your mad money, Mother.”
My smug smile dropped to open-mouthed astonishment. “You
did not! You’re only saying that to prove your point!”
“I am not. You wouldn’t believe how many times Dad and I
borrowed from that jar only to sneak the money back in later before you noticed
it was missing.” It was her turn to smirk. “You were our own personal little
didn’t know it!”
I narrowed my eyes. “You always did like your father
better than you did me.”
“Maybe a little,” she said.
I gave a high-pitched squawk of indignation that
probably set dogs to barking all over town.
Faye laughed. “I’m just kidding.”
“No, you’re not. But that’s fine. I can take it.” I
turned my attention back to the drawer where we’d found the ledger. “I’ll see
if I can find anything else that could be considered incriminating.”
“Mother, come on. It was a joke.”
“Have you got everything you needed from that ledger?” I
She blew out a breath. “Yeah, I think so.”
“I can’t believe you knew about my jar,” I muttered, as
I rifled through the drawer. “Did you know about my affair with the postman
too? He’d always ring the doorbell twice so I’d know it was him.”
“That was a movie with Lana Turner, and you know it,”
Faye said. “And she wasn’t having an affair with the postman. The guy was a