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Authors: Donna Simmons

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BOOK: Mourning Dove
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“Thank you, Margaret. To continue,
the job is full time at forty hours a week. We process payroll every other
Monday. I take it you have experience with payroll as well?”

“Yes sir, thirty-two
years.”

“Where was your last
employment?”

“I last worked for MCI in
Boston. I got tired of the commute and went into retirement.”

“Retirement? Why are you
seeking another job if you’re retired?”

“They raised my taxes,
Mr. Stafford. I’ve got to be able to keep my home and eat. Medicines aren’t
getting any cheaper either.”

“Please, call me Ron. Yes,
it is getting tougher to get by every day, isn’t it, Margaret. Well, how long
were you, ah, retired?”

“Six months, sir. I’m
looking for a full time position in a quiet office close to home.” She looked
around the front office and said, “I think this place will do; seems quiet
enough for my liking.”

Allen was leaning against
the far wall, tapping his watch.  Ron would like to wipe that silly smirk off
his freckled face. This was what he got for complaining to the employment
agency that he needed someone with maturity and years of experience.

“Good...good,” Ron said
as he reached over to the middle drawer of the desk in front of his new
geriatric bookkeeper and realized there was no easy way of opening the drawer
without touching the lady. “Ah, Margaret, please open the center drawer in
front of you. You’ll find an envelope with a set of keys. Inside is also a list
of cell phone numbers, mine, Allen’s, and Sara’s. I really don’t mean to rush
this interview, but we have an important meeting in Newburyport. Welcome
aboard. Lock up when you leave at five.”

He reached for his jacket
slung over one of the visitor’s chairs and extended his other hand for her
handshake.

“Mr. Stafford, Ron?
That’s it? I have the job?”

“Yes, Margaret, the job
is yours. As you can see we need you immediately.” He headed toward the front
door where Allen was dangling the keys to the van. “Nose around in the filing
cabinets and the desk drawers.  But stay out of the back room and my office.  I
haven’t had a chance to clean up in there. Any questions, call one of us.”

“Mr. Ron, I have
appointments this afternoon.”

“I would appreciate it if
you could rearrange your appointments for today.” He turned back toward the
very confused woman.

Allen was already in the
van with the engine running when Ron reached the front door.

“Mr. Ron, who is this
Sara person on the phone list?”

“She’s my wife. She was
doing the books for the last two years. She can answer any questions you have.
See you in the morning. Leave me notes about any questions you have for me or
anything you can’t find. I have to go now. Goodbye, Margaret. Thanks again.”

 

***

 

In the van, Allen’s
laughter filled the space. “Be careful what you ask for, Ron. You just might
get it.”

“What are you laughing
about? She’ll probably quit the minute she sees my office.”

“That’s true. Where do we
go next, boss?”

“The bank, we’re going to
need some cash for the damsel in Newburyport.”

 

***

 

The Stafford van was
stuck in traffic entering the downtown shopping district of Newburyport. “I
don’t remember this kind of congestion before?” Ron rolled down the driver’s
side window trying to get a better view of the bottleneck two blocks ahead.

“Do you see any action up
there?”

“Flashing lights, a cop
car, and a fire truck, but I don’t see any sign of fire.”

“I can get out and walk
up, you want me to try?” Allen pushed his door open.

“No wait! There’s a cop
waving traffic forward. We’re moving again.”

“From this side it looks
as if they’re diverting traffic down a side street two blocks up.”

“How far is The Art
Shop?”

Allen glanced down at the
GPS locater. “It seems to be in the middle of the block just beyond the fire
truck. What do you want to do, Ron?”

“I’ll ask the cop.”

They approached the
intersection where traffic was detouring down a side street to the right. 
Leaning out the driver side window, Ron asked, “Officer, I have business with a
store owner down a couple blocks on the right. Can I park my van here on the
curb and walk down?”

“No sir, you have to keep
moving. Turn right here. No stopping, you’re tying up traffic.”

“I don’t mean to be
difficult, but I’m expected by the lady at The Art Shop in the middle of that
block. I’m not sure where this detour is going to take us. If I park my van
here on the curbing I could walk down and be out of your hair.”

“Pull over to the curb
and get out of the van,” the policeman ordered in an intimidating tone of
voice. Then he waved on the traffic line behind their van and talked into the
communicator attached to his shoulder.

“Does that mean we can
walk up to the shop, or are we under arrest for failing to detour?” Allen
asked.

“I’m not sure what it
means, but here comes a suit.” A man in dark blue walked determinately toward
them from the scene of commotion up ahead. Ron and Allen got out of the van and
waited.

“Oh yeah, this looks like
a higher power. Definitely plain clothes, maybe the chief,” Allen confirmed as
the sun glinted off the badge hanging from the breast pocket of the man
strutting toward them.

“What seems to be your
problem, mister? Weren’t you told to detour around this block?”

“I’m sorry, sir. My
friend and I have business with the owner of The Art Shop. With this traffic
tie up we are already late for our appointment. We’re just trying to find a way
to reach our destination and not get in the way of the accident up ahead. Would
it be all right with you if we just walked up to meet our friend? We promise
not to get in the way of anything official.”

The detective sighed and
shook his head.

“Show me some
identification: driver’s license and registration.”

“I’m Ron Stafford, the
owner of Stafford Sound Systems and this is my van.”

 Ron pulled out his
license and business card.

“Allen, can you reach
into the glove box for the registration?”

“You are Ronald
Stafford?”

“Yes sir.”

“And you, sir?”

Allen offered the van
registration and nodded. “Allen Cook, sir. I’m Ron’s assistant.  Here’s my ID.”

The detective inspected
both sets of identification and compared the photos with their faces. Ron
thought this cop was way too suspicious for just an accident. He was probably
new to his position and overdoing his mantle of authority
.

“What business do you
have with the owner of The Art Shop?”

“She’s a friend of the
family. She’s had a couple of traumatic days. Her shop and apartment were
burglarized.”

“What do you know about
the burglaries?”

“Not much, you probably
know more about that than I do. I talked to her this morning by phone and told
her we’d come down today to see what we could do to get her back in business
and secure her apartment for her. You know, new locks, a sturdy door, something
to sleep on.”

“Well, gentlemen it won’t
do you any good to walk down to The Art Shop. The owner has been in an
accident.”

“What?”

“She was hit by a truck
in front of her store.”

“Where are you taking
her? Is that ambulance taking her to a local hospital? We can follow her out.”
The emergency vehicle in question passed them heading out of town without
sirens or lights.

“I’m not at liberty to
say until next of kin is notified.”

“You don’t understand,
detective. Stacey doesn’t have any family left. That’s why we came down to
help. Please tell us where you’re taking her?” Ron ran his hands through his
hair in agitation then turned around and stared the detective directly in the
eye. “Don’t you understand?  She’s already overwhelmed; she’s going to need
someone she knows to be with her.”

The detective looked up
at the puffy clouds in the warm blue September sky, paused, and exhaled. Then
he looked Ron in the eye. “Mr. Stafford, your friend didn’t make it. She died
at the scene.”

The cop stood there for
what seemed like hours, waiting. Finally Ron closed his eyes. He could feel
Allen’s hand on his shoulder. “Come on, Ron. We can’t do anything here.” Allen
guided him back to the van where he sat down heavily on the driver’s seat.

The detective followed.
“Are you sure she has no next of kin?”

“Yes, she was friends
with my son, Carl, and another friend of theirs here in Newburyport.”

“What is your son’s full
name and address? We might have to ask him some questions, and we’ll need the
name of the friend here in town if you have it.”

“Why do you need more
information from people not at the scene for an accident?” Allen asked.

“We like to be thorough,
son.” He turned backed to Ron. “Mr. Stafford, how can we contact your son and
this other friend here in town?”

Ron felt the knot in his
chest intensify. “My son is dead. He passed away last March.”

“I’m sorry for your loss.
That answers a lot about your reaction. What about the other friend you
mentioned?”

“Jordan O’Brien. He’s an
artist and life long friend of my son’s. Stacey told me this morning she’s been
sleeping on his couch since her apartment was trashed on Sunday. He lives in a
loft apartment here in town. I’m not sure of the exact address. My wife would
know. Would you like me to call her?”

“That’s not necessary. We
have Mr. O’Brien at the scene.”

“He must be beside
himself. Maybe we should be with him.”

“Not at this time.” The
detective walked back toward the flashing lights.

 “You know what I’m
thinking, Ron?”

“Yeah, I need to talk to
Jordie.”

“Do you have his cell
number? If he has it on him, we might still be able to reach him.”

“No, but I know who can
get it for me.” Ron punched in the number ‘one’ speed dial on his phone and
waited.

“Ron, what is it now?”

“Sara, do you have
Jordie’s cell phone number?”

“I don’t but I can get it
from Cass. What’s wrong? Did you speak to Stacey?”

“Honey, Stacey’s been in
an accident and I need to reach Jordie. It’s urgent that I speak to him right
away. Can you get the number from Cass? I’m sitting in the van in Newburyport.”

“Oh God, how serious is
it? Is she all right?”

“I’ll fill you in later.
I need that number now. Please.”

“I’ll call you right
back.”

A few minutes later,
“Sara, have you got it?”

“Yes, Cass just got in
from school.”

He wrote the number down
on the palm of his hand.

“Call me back, Ron. Don’t
leave us hanging.”

“I will, I promise.” He
clicked off the connection and punched in the new number. It rang once, then
again. “Come on Jordie, pick up.” On the fourth ring the connection was made.

In a soft whisper, Jordie
responded.

“Jordie, it’s Ron
Stafford. I’m a block away, but the police won’t let me come down to you. If
you want me to get you an attorney, just say yes.”

“Yes.”

“Are you all right?”

“Yeah, but Stacey isn’t.”
Jordie choked out.

“I know, son. I spoke to
the detective. We’re going to get you help. They have no reason to hold you.”

“It wasn’t me, Mr.
Stafford. It wasn’t me.”

“I know that Jordie.”

“I was still a block away
when the accident happened. I heard it; I heard the thump.  Damn it! What’s
happening to us?”

“Listen Jordie, we’re
going to get you help. We will get you out of this.”

“Oh God! Stacey!”

“Jordan, take a deep breath...That’s it...Take another one. After I get you legal counsel, I’m going
to take care of the arrangements for Stacey. We’ll get through this together as
a family. You’re like a son to me; I won’t abandon you. You understand?”

“Yes sir. The cops are
coming back now. I have to hang up. Thank you, Mr. Stafford.”

Ron pulled a business
card from his wallet and punched in the number, “Hey Bernie, Ron Stafford.
How’s the legal business?”

“Ron, you old sea dog,
long time no hear, what’s up?”

“We seem to be in a legal
fix at the moment, Bernie. A very close friend of our son’s has just been taken
into custody in Newburyport. We need good legal counsel quickly.”

A few minutes later,
Allen came back to the van from a café across the street holding a couple of
cold drinks.  “Any luck, Ron?” He reached out with a cold drink.

“My friend’s contacting
someone local here. He’ll call back.”

“So, I guess we wait?”
Allen walked to the other side of the van and climbed in.

“Ugh! This is Mountain
Dew!” Ron handed it back to him.

“Sorry about that, chief.
I’m glad you noticed before I sipped your sugar free ice tea. It could stunt my
growth,” he traded drinks just as Ron’s phone rang again.

“Ron. The attorney is Ray
Bradley. I gave him the particulars. He’s on his way to the police station now.
He should be there inside of ten minutes. You’re all set.”

“Thanks, Bernie. I owe
you.”

“You owe me a round of
golf my friend. I won the last time we met. It’s your turn to pay.”

 

***

 

“Damn it! What took you
so long?” Ron held his phone away from his ear as Sara continued to yell her
concern. “I’ve been on pins and needles for hours and Cass has called me every
fifteen minutes worried about her son.”

“I know, Sara, I’ve been
taking care of things in Newburyport and just got back to the office. I’ll call
Cass if you want. It might be easier coming from me since I was down there,”
then after a long breath he gave her the rest.

“Sweetheart, Stacey was
hit by a truck out in front of her shop. She didn’t make it.”

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