Authors: Hope Callaghan
Tags: #Mystery: Cozy - Senior Sleuths - Michigan
Gloria was up early the next morning. She’d spent the night tossing and turning as she plotted out the plan for later that night. She also thought about the old black and white photo. The more she thought about it, the more convinced she was that the woman in the picture was not her mother!
She was sipping a cup of coffee, catching up on local news when Andrea called. “What time do you want me to come over and hide out?”
Gloria glanced at the clock. It was still early. Something dawned on her. Something she hadn’t considered yet. “What are we going to do with Brutus?”
“Got that covered. Margaret stopped by a few minutes ago. She told me she’d keep Brutus until I get back.”
Gloria let out a sigh of relief. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to keep Brutus at the farm. She just wasn’t quite sure how Mally would react. The two dogs had met briefly but there was a big difference between a quick visit and having another dog invade Mally’s turf!
Before they hung up, Andrea told her she’d pack an overnight bag and head out. Gloria made her way out to the barn to open the double doors. She unlocked the padlock and shoved the doors open. She peered in. The tractor took up a good deal of room but Gloria was certain there was plenty of room for Andrea’s car to pull in beside it.
She was still in the barn when Andrea pulled in the drive. Gloria quickly motioned for her to pull forward and into the empty spot.
Andrea hopped out of the car and darted out of the barn. The girls closed the door as fast as they could and shoved the lock in place. They hurried into the house and slammed the door. Gloria pulled the kitchen shade, just to be safe. She turned to Andrea. “Did you leave the cellar doors unlocked?”
“Check.” Andrea nodded. “I left the lock hanging on the door but didn’t snap it down so it would look like I forgot.”
Gloria gave her the thumbs up. Mally padded into the kitchen and over to Andrea. She sniffed her pant legs, then her hands. Andrea bent down to pat her head. “You smell Brutus, don’t you?”
She wandered over to her doggy bed and settled in. Gloria was certain she was disappointed that Brutus wasn’t with her. “Sorry, girl. Maybe next time,” she told her.
Andrea pulled out a kitchen chair. Puddles sauntered into the kitchen. He eyed Andrea for a moment before leaping into her lap. He curled up in a ball and settled in.
Gloria scowled at the traitor. “Maybe you should get a cat.”
Andrea stroked his soft fur. Puddles began to purr like a lawn mower in high gear. “I’ve been thinking about it,” she admitted. “Not sure how Brutus will react to a cat.”
The afternoon seemed to drag on. Gloria was used to coming and going as she pleased.
At least she was able to make a few trips outside with Mally. She was certain Andrea must be going stir crazy. Although she seemed to be handling it quite well.
Andrea played on her laptop. She played with Puddles, who loved every second of it. It was obvious he adored her as much as she adored him.
Gloria thawed the chicken pot pie she’d made a few weeks back and whipped up a batch of corn muffins to go with it. After the girls had eaten, they changed into their stakeout clothes. Black slacks, black shirts, sturdy black shoes. Ones that they could run in, if necessary.
The group had agreed to rendezvous at 9:00 p.m. The plan was for Andrea and Gloria to park Annabelle at Lucy’s place. Lucy would drop them off in the alley, behind the house, and then Lucy would find a place to park on the side street. Somewhere out of sight. Margaret would be waiting nearby - at the other end of the alley.
Lucy’s porch light was on when they pulled into the drive. Gloria glanced around as they slid out of the car. She hoped no one would drive by and see Andrea. That was one of the downfalls of living in such a small town! Everyone knew everyone and, thanks to Dot and Ruth, Gloria was certain that 99% of the residents now thought Andrea was out-of-town on a family emergency!
Lucy opened the door. The girls stepped inside the house and Gloria quickly switched off the yard light. “I hope no one noticed Andrea,” Gloria said.
Lucy’s face drooped. “I’m sorry, Gloria. I didn’t even think about that.” Lucy was becoming a pretty good detective. She wasn’t quite there yet, but she was close.
“It’s okay. Don’t worry about it.”
Her face brightened as she reached behind her and grabbed a wrapped present off the stand. She thrust it in Gloria’s hand. “Merry Christmas!”
Gloria frowned as she looked down at the package. “It’s not even close to the holidays.”
Lucy nodded. “I know. I was going to give you this as your Christmas gift but I figured you could use it tonight.”
Gloria slid into the chair and set the box on the table in front of her. She untied the bow and peeled the tape off both ends. She turned it over and pulled the last piece of tape off before lifting the box. Printed on the front were the words:
True Grit Night Vision Monocular.
Gloria opened the box and pulled out what looked like part telescope, part binoculars. “Oh, I get it. Monocular. Like half a binocular.”
She turned it over in her hand. “Lucy, this looks expensive,” she scolded her.
Lucy waved her hand. “Naw! I got a great deal on one of those middle-of-the-night infomercials. You know, buy one, get one free. I’m giving the other one to Bill for Christmas. Except he has to wait for his,” she explained.
Gloria closed one eye and held the monocular up to the other. “This thing is cool! Shut off the light.”
Lucy killed the lights and Gloria moved the monocular around the room. “Wow! This really works. Except you both look like little green women!”
“I know, right?” Lucy giggled. “I couldn’t resist. I already checked it out.”
Gloria handed it to Andrea. “Take a look.”
Andrea held it to her eye and surveyed the room. “Wow. This is pretty cool!” She pulled it from her eye and handed the monocular back to Gloria.
Lucy switched on the light and grabbed the walkie-talkies. She handed one to Gloria. “I stopped by Margaret’s place earlier and picked these up. We set them on a frequency so we can hear each other.”
Gloria smiled. She was proud of the girls. They were getting this sleuthing business down pat!
The drive to Andrea’s was quick. Lucy pulled her yellow jeep down the rutted alley and dropped Gloria and Andrea off at the edge of the of the property line, right in front of the low bushes. “This place looks familiar,” Lucy commented wryly.
Gloria winked at Lucy. It looked familiar because it wasn’t long ago that Lucy and Gloria had staked out the old house, which at the time was vacant. Andrea hadn’t purchased it yet.
Gloria gathered up the walkie-talkie and monocular and slid out of the passenger seat. Andrea slid out of the back seat and quietly closed the door. They watched as Lucy stepped on the gas and bounced off down the alley, in search of a hiding spot close by.
The girls tiptoed over to the edge of the shrubbery and vaulted through a small opening. They crouched down and crept over to the corner, taking cover behind a large bush.
Gloria dropped to her knees. She handed the walkie-talkie to Andrea. “I’m putting you in charge of communications.”
She lifted the monocular to her eye and adjusted the lens. When she had a clear view of the house, she handed it to Andrea. “Have a look.”
Andrea squinted through the lens. “That is so cool. I think I’m going to get Brian one of these,” she decided. She handed it back to Gloria and sat down on the grass. “I’ve never spied on my own house before.”
Gloria chuckled. The irony of the situation wasn’t lost on either of them.
They sat there quietly for several long moments and watched as the stars came out. It was a beautiful night. Gloria didn’t stargaze often. She was usually in bed; sound asleep before the 11:00 news.
“So how long do we wait?” Andrea whispered.
Gloria shrugged. She was more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of detective. “I’m not sure yet,” she answered truthfully. She prayed they weren’t wasting their time.
They sat there for a bit longer when something caught Gloria’s attention. It was a small movement over on the other side of the rose garden. She whacked Andrea’s arm. “Did you see that?” she mumbled under her breath.
Andrea shook her head. Gloria lifted the monocular to her eye. “Someone’s out there.” She followed the figure. The person was tall and walked with a bit of a hunch. She watched as the figure bent down and grabbed hold of the cellar door. “They’re going for the cellar door.”
Andrea squinted her eyes. She couldn’t see much of anything. It was too dark, even with the stars out.
Gloria gave her a blow-by-blow. “Yep! They took the lock off the door and set it aside.” She sucked in a breath. Her armpits began to sweat. “Now they’re opening the cellar door. They switched on a flashlight and…..they’re inside!”
Andrea started to get up. “We should go confront them.”
Gloria grabbed her arm and pulled her back down. “No! What if they have a weapon?” she whispered. “Radio the girls and tell them to get ready. Someone’s in the basement.”
Andrea nodded. She’d completely forgotten her assignment!
She turned her back and faced the bushes before pressing the button on the radio. “Buttercup and Mrs. Trace, do you copy?”
Gloria’s head whipped around.
“Buttercup and Mrs. Trace?”
Andrea shrugged. “Undercover names I just thought up. Buttercup for Lucy’s yellow jeep and Mrs. Trace since Margaret lives on Lake Terrace,” she explained.
The radio crackled. “We hear you,” Buttercup replied.
“Yeah! Our chicken has come home to roost,” Andrea answered cryptically.
Gloria almost burst out laughing. She started to say something when a light caught her attention. Whoever had been in the basement was coming back out.
Gloria fixed her monocular on the movement. She could see something in their right hand. Something large. “They’re carrying something and it’s square.”
Andrea could make out the outline as they closed the cellar door and put the lock back on top. “Stand by,” Andrea mumbled into the radio.
Gloria’s heart started to pound as the person abruptly turned and headed right towards them. The girls ducked behind the bush. Gloria squeezed her eyes shut and prayed they wouldn’t be discovered.
They held their breath and waited several long moments, afraid to even blink. Finally, Gloria peeked around the edge and let out a sigh of relief. The person had turned and eased out around side of the shrubs, heading for the alley.
Andrea pressed the button on the radio. “They’re headed your way, Buttercup, carrying what looks like a suitcase or briefcase.”
“10-4” came the brief reply.
Andrea wasn’t done. “Mrs. Trace, do you copy?”
“Rendezvous at green 10. Stat.”
Gloria rolled her eyes. Andrea was really getting into this!
Apparently, Margaret figured out what “green 10 stat” meant as headlights bounced down the alley and came to an abrupt halt near the edge of the hedge.
Gloria and Andrea climbed through the bushes and into the car. Gloria leaned over the front seat. “If we hurry, maybe we can catch up with Lucy.”
They caught up with Lucy as she was heading down main street, coming from the opposite direction. The two vehicles stopped at the corner. They rolled down the windows.
Lucy stuck her head out the window. “You’re never going to believe who that was!”
“…and then they tossed the suitcase in the trash can out by the curb and walked back in the house like nobody’s business.”
The girls had parked in the empty lot in front of the post office. “We have to go get the suitcase,” Gloria decided.
Lucy’s eyebrows shot up. “What if we get caught?”
“We’re not going to.” Gloria didn’t feel quite as confident as she hoped she sounded. “Look, I’ll get it out.”
Andrea touched Gloria’s arm. “I can’t let you take that risk,” she told her.