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Authors: Elaine Orr

Tags: #Mystery: Cozy - Real Estate Appraiser - New Jersey

Elaine Orr - Jolie Gentil 06 - Behind the Walls (3 page)

BOOK: Elaine Orr - Jolie Gentil 06 - Behind the Walls
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We said hello and then stared at him.
George doesn’t need anything in the Purple Cow. The
Ocean Alley Press
has any supplies he could want.

“Scoobie called from the bus stop to say that Jolie had some big news, and he laid odds that you’d be in here.”
He nodded at me but mostly looked at Ramona.

“I hate it when he does that,” I fumed.

“Knows how you’ll act?” George asked, with half a smile. “So, what’s the big news?”

I was annoyed at Scoobie for telling George I had any kind of news. There would be no keeping George at bay until he found out what it was.
“Scoobie has a big mouth.”

“Come on, Jolie,” he said.
“It’ll be like confession.”

“You’re the Catholic,” I grumbled.
George kept staring at me. “I found something in the house. Well, Scoobie and I found it.”

“Damn.
I thought he was just trying to make us talk to each other,” George said, in a bemused tone.

“Oh!” Ramona looked from George to me and flushed.

George and I had agreed we would not behave childishly about our break-up.
We know all the same people, and it would be ridiculous if we had to see Ramona and Scoobie or our friend Bill separately. I just have to keep the butterflies in my stomach at bay, and George has to act as if he doesn’t miss me. Which he maybe doesn’t.

“Sooo,” George said.

I shrugged. “It was just a few pieces of old jewelry. We found it behind living room wallboard in my house. Probably not worth much.”

Ramona looked away, seemingly not wanting George to figure I had told her I thought otherwise.

George looked disappointed. “Still, it’s odd that someone would put a wall over some gold necklaces, right?”

“Ha!
He didn’t tell you it’s necklaces,” I said.

George grinned.
“But you just told me it isn’t.”

“Don’t you have more interesting stories?” I asked.

“Ooh, you’ll like this,” Ramona said. “George is looking backwards.”

I feigned innocence.
“What else is new?”

He apparently decided not to respond to that point.
“You know how all the news was about Sandy in late October, early November?”

I looked at him with raised eyebrows.

“Yeah, yeah, rhetorical question.
Anyway, I had a great idea. Somebody needs to look at what didn’t make it into the paper then, or maybe just had a couple lines instead of a story.”

“Isn’t it kind of late to follow up?” I asked.

“Won’t know until I do more leg work.” Then he looked at me directly, something he does not often do these days. “You have any ideas?”

Between getting windows boarded up at the Cozy Corner and trying to find extra stock for the food pantry, I hadn’t thought of much else at that time.
“Hmm. Anything Halloween-related? Maybe tricks because there weren’t too many treats?” Since Sandy had come ashore October 29th, many towns had canceled trick-or-treating, including Ocean Alley.”

“Maybe you should check at the firehouse,” Ramona suggested.

“Huh.” He seemed to consider this. “I’m going to talk to our favorite sergeant at the police station this afternoon. I should go by the fire station after that.”

“Didn’t some mayor say there was so little crime for a couple of days after
Sandy that it was almost like when there’s a blizzard?” I asked.


Atlantic City, I think.” He looked at the clock on the wall above Ramona’s head. “Gotta run.”

After a couple of seconds, Ramona said, “That was…”

“Awkward,” I sighed.

“I figured you guys would have made up by now,” she said.
“It’s been what, three months?”

“Closer to four, but it’s no big deal.”
As if. I ticked George off well into December, and crocuses were already popping up around town. “You know, it is an interesting idea. Remember the day before Sandy? The mayor said they were going to introduce some new way to track crime?”

Ramona shrugged. “Kind of.
Roland was talking about how dumb it was, because there’s hardly any crime here.”

I grinned and Ramona rolled her eyes.

“You know what I mean. Compared to Camden or something.”

“It was an election year so the mayor had to say something.
The only thing I know that’s not solved is that stupid Peeping Tom.” The guy had been peeking in windows for months, and he’s always gone by the time police arrive.

Ramona sighed.
“I’m glad I live in a second floor apartment.”

We talked for a couple more minutes and I asked her if she wanted to go to dinner with me, but it was her yoga night.
I figured that asking her was enough to mean I hadn’t lied to Aunt Madge about dinner plans.

My car was in the lot on the side of the Purple Cow.
Usually one of the two parking spots in front of the store is open, but today they had been taken. The lot only has five parking spaces, since it’s the size of a small store that used to be in the spot. It’s also surrounded by buildings on three sides, so sunlight is sparse except at noon.

As I pulled my keys out of my pocket I felt someone touch my elbow. Before I could fully turn to face the person he (or she?) had tugged hard on the shoulder strap of my purse.
I careened to my left and would have fallen over if my car had not been there to stop me.

Before I could regain my balance the person slid my shoulder bag down my arm and was running up the street.

I yelled, “Hey, hey!” and took off after him. I focused on his backwards-facing baseball cap. I knew there was a reason I didn’t like the Mets. Under the hat was a ski mask. It only took me about twenty paces before I realized I’d never catch the guy. And it was stupid to chase him.
Who knew who had a gun?

CHAPTER THREE

 

I SLOWED and looked around.
If it had been summer the streets would have been crowded, but it was a chilly day in April, and the wind from the ocean held a promise of rain. No one was on the street, and none of the two and three-story businesses that lined the street were visibly busy.

I glanced at my hand, which still grasped the car keys.
“Crud! Crud! Crud!” I yelled this at the top of my voice. I had my keys, but lots of important stuff was in my purse. All my ID, a great picture of George and me, which I probably didn’t need anymore anyway, and my calendar. I wished I had a bunch of rusty nails or something in the bottom of the bag. That would teach a thief.

No one had heard me yell at the thief when I was in the small parking lot, but now that I was on the sidewalk my bellowing had attracted several people.
Roland was hurrying out of the Purple Cow toward me, and a woman from the beauty salon across the street was gesturing to me. I waved to her and pointed to Roland and walked toward him.

“What is it, Jolie? Are you all right?”

“I am. But my purse is about three blocks away by now.”

He had reached me and had a sympathetic look on his face. Roland is in his forties. He has a full head of brown hair that is wavy when it gets longer, like now, so he looks closer to my age.
“Come back to store. We’ll call the police from there. I’m glad you weren’t hurt.”

I could feel tears of frustration welling, so I only nodded and fell into step beside him.

“It’s ridiculous,” Roland said. “I haven’t heard of a purse snatching in the off-season in years. Maybe ever.” We had reached the store and he opened the door for me.

As I brushed my hand across my eyes I couldn’t think of why anyone would target me.
My Toyota was almost five years old and my hooded spring jacket and tan pants weren’t ritzy. What about the jewelry? I pushed the thought aside. There was no way anyone knew about it.

 

THE JEWELRY WAS, OF COURSE, George’s immediate opinion. Roland called the police but Ramona had called George. She would have called Scoobie, but knew he was at the college library.

“No one knew about it except the four of us and Aunt Madge.
No purse snatcher would have known.”

“I suppose,” George said, but slowly.
His gaze was unfocused, which I recognized as his look of concentration.

“Didn’t you say that Scoobie called you from the bus stop?” Ramona asked.

I looked at Ramona with not exactly surprise, maybe more like appreciation. She’s really smart, but her mind doesn’t generally go to sleuth-type thinking. In fact, she abhors my occasional need to get to the bottom of something. “Good point. I’ll have to ask…”

“You ask him who was around and he’ll think it was his fault,” George said.

“He’s a big boy,”
I snapped. I hate it when George gets something before I do
. I thought for a second. “I’ll ask him if he has ideas about who might know about the jewelry.”

George rolled his eyes.
“Like that’s…”

“Hi Dana,” Ramona said.
Ramona had been scanning for customers, so she had seen Corporal Dana Johnson come into the store.

Dana is my favorite Ocean Alley police officer.
It’s not just that she’s younger and a woman. She never treats me like an errant teenager.

“Jolie, we were just saying at the station that you hadn’t been in for awhile.”
Her eyes smiled.

I tried to paste a smile on my face.
“Just can’t stay out of your hair.”

Dana was all business when she took down what little I had to say.
“You’ve said guy a couple of times to describe the thief. If the person was wearing a ski mask, how do you know it was a guy?”

“I guess it was more of an impression, maybe the build.”

“Okay, we’re going outside. I want to see where you were standing so we can try to figure out where the person came from. You,” Dana pointed her pen at George, “stay here.”

“Free press,” he said, fairly amiably.

“Yes, but not everything we do is freely available. I don’t feel like making Jolie come down to the station so we can talk without you.”

George raised his hands in mock surrender.
I knew it was time for him to be writing his pieces for the next morning’s
Ocean Alley Press
, so most of me hoped he would be gone when Dana and I were done.

Once we were in the parking lot, Dana told me to stand where I had been next to the car and she positioned herself in front of me.
“So, if you were right there and I’m standing where the guy was, how do I compare in height?” she asked.

I turned and stared at her for a couple of seconds. “Hey, with you I can see all of the top of the handicapped parking sign on the wall. When the guy was there I think it was blocked.”

We both stared at the wall, as if a measuring tape would appear and tell us how high the image was. Dana walked to it. “So, I can measure later, but I’d say that’s almost six feet high. Maybe only five-ten.”

I am five two, and I hadn’t felt dwarfed by the guy. “You know, I think the height is right, but it reminds me he wasn’t really a big guy, in fact maybe skinny.
Hard to tell because he had on a windbreaker or some jacket like that. Oh, and a Mets hat.”

Dana turned in a circle to take in all of the parking area.
“There’s only one way in and out of here. It’s an odd place to plan a robbery.”

“I almost never park back here.
I didn’t see where he came from. He must have hidden behind the car closest to the Purple Cow.”

Dana was still making notes when her radio phone buzzed.
“Johnson,” she said, in a clipped tone. She listened for a second, and then nodded at me. “Okay, we’ll be down.”

“We?” I asked, remembering that I was kind of hungry.

“Somebody turned in your purse. The handle was sticking out of a street trash can just beyond Java Jolt.”

 

WE DROVE SEPARATELY AND I followed Dana into the secure area of the police station, which was behind the reception counter. Sergeant Morehouse was in the hall near the small conference room. He did a little, I would say sarcastic, bow to indicate that I should go in before he did. Then he walked in behind me, letting Dana follow him.

Morehouse is only about ten years older than I am, but he dresses like a much older person.
Always polyester pants, a plain shirt, and tie. And we aren’t talking new ties. He keeps his brown hair, I think it’s brown, so short he looks like an Army sergeant instead of a police sergeant.

My purse was sitting on the table, and I started to reach for it.
“Just a second. Did the perp have on gloves?” he asked.

I thought for a couple of seconds and shook my head.
“I don’t think so, but it was so fast, I’m not sure.”

He nodded and picked up two long pencils from a jar on the table and fished in my bag, pulling out the case that had my sunglasses, my wallet, whose change purse was not closed all the way so it spilled a couple of quarters, my pocket calendar, my small digital camera, tissues, and a ring that had the Cozy Corner front door and garage keys on it. I said a silent prayer of thanks that I hadn’t had what commercials call feminine hygiene products in the purse.

“Oh, gosh. I forgot the B&B keys were in there.”

Dana added the keys to her list of items I’d named.

“Anything obviously missing?” he asked.

“I don’t think so. I had about thirty dollars in the wallet.”

He inserted the two pencils in the part of the wallet that holds bills, separating the pocket.

I peered in.
“It looks like the amount I had.” I looked at him and he shook his head.

“I’ll have the guys look for prints before we take it out and count it.
If it’s all there, it raises the obvious question of what was a thief looking for?” His look was accusatory.

Morehouse and I have, if not a love-hate relationship, a state of mutual tolerance that is sometimes more flexible than others.
“I don’t know. They wouldn’t have had time to make a copy of the keys, would they?”

Morehouse looked at Dana.
“Only if they ran right into the hardware store and got waited on immediately, but since the purse was a few blocks from there, no,” she said.

“Have a seat, Jolie,” Morehouse said.
He turned to Dana. “I doubt it will do any good, but let some of the other guys know what the perp was wearing, and anything else you can think of.” She walked out.

“My guess is he’s not walking around with the ski mask,” I said, glumly.

“Most crooks are kinda stupid, but that would be even dumber than usual,” he said. He sat across from me. “So what were they looking for?”

I frowned.
“No way anyone would know, but this afternoon Scoobie and I…” Morehouse gave me a look that said
you gotta be kiddin’ me
. I ignored him. “Scoobie helped me pull down a piece of drywall that I couldn’t pull myself. There was a small pouch of jewelry behind the wall.”

“Jewelry?” He gave me a skeptical look.
“Just sittin’ there? Look valuable?”

“Not the crown jewels, but there were several loose diamonds and some kind of pricey looking bracelets.”
I kind of enjoyed his baffled expression. “I took them to Aunt Madge’s.”

“Smart. No security system at your new place.”

And I hadn’t planned on putting one in. “She has one of those fire safes. I thought I’d see who owned the house maybe thirty or forty years ago, and then see if they maybe stored it there and forgot about it. Or maybe see if there were reports of stolen jewelry that looked like the bracelets.”

This idea had just taken full form.
For some reason I wanted him to know that I hadn’t planned on keeping the jewelry if I could find out who owned it.

“And a course you woulda asked our help in trying to figure that out,” he added.

“Um, yes.” I had been thinking of the
Ocean Alley Press
microfiche that was in the library. In part because I was intrigued by the idea of looking, and in part I figured the paper’s archives were a better source. Only police records from the last twenty years or so are digitized. And part of me was beginning to mull over asking George to help me look.

“Humph.
And you still think basically everything seems to be there?” He gestured to my purse and its now spilled contents.

“It looks it. If I think of something else I’ll tell you. When can I have it back?”

“We have your prints from the various times we’ve used them for elimination,” he said, and I gave him what I hoped was a charming smile. “I’ll see if the guys can check your driver’s license and credit card for prints this evening so you can have them back tomorrow. I doubt the guy looked at it, but you might wanna get a new credit card. Could take a couple more days for you to get all of it. Unless we find a suspect. Then maybe longer.”

I did my best not to look irritated. I knew in a larger town I might not have my stuff for weeks.

“Okay.
Bottom line, I can go?” I asked.

“As long as you aren’t holding back from me.”

This is more like the Sergeant Morehouse I usually deal with. “The guy found me, remember?”

“Yep. Tell Madge hello.
And Harry.” He looked at me intently for a couple of seconds, but didn’t say anything else. However, as I got halfway down the hall he called out. “Can I see ‘em?”

For a split second I didn’t know what he was talking about, and then I realized he meant the jewelry.
“Sure, I can bring them…”

“I’ll come by in the morning.”
He said this as he answered his mobile phone, so I knew I was again dismissed.

 

RAMONA WAS IN THE SMALL waiting area, sitting in one of those hard plastic chairs that are meant for people who weigh less than one hundred fifty pounds. Which she does. She stood. “I know you weren’t hurt or anything, but I thought you might want a hug.” I’m not much of a hugger, but we did a brief one and walked out together.

“I’ll give you a ride.”
Ramona doesn’t own a car, and her regular walking keeps her very trim. I don’t weigh too much more than I should, but my steady supply of Aunt Madge’s muffins and Java Jolt pastries makes me suck in my tummy more than I used to.

She glanced at her watch.
“That would be good. I can catch the last half of my yoga class.”

“Gosh, I’m really…”

“Don’t be silly. You’d do the same for me.”

I would, but she doesn’t seem to get jammed up the way I do.

“George go back to the paper?” I asked.

“Almost as soon as you and Dana went out to the parking lot.”
We had gotten to my car and I punched the key fob to unlock the doors.

We didn’t talk as I drove. Ramona and I are very different, but we have a companionable friendship.
It isn’t like my friendship with Scoobie, who almost knows my moods before I do, but it’s nice to have a girlfriend.

BOOK: Elaine Orr - Jolie Gentil 06 - Behind the Walls
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