Tuesday, January 16, 2018

For Example, Take Maryland

On their way home from Haynes' dinner, Patten asked Caroline,"What do you know about Colleen - the lady we met tonight?"

"I've only seen her in the Tea Room twice. Blanche said that Haynes' was head over heels, school boy smitten with her at first sight."

"Really?"

"He asked Blanche as soon as as he could, who she was and did Blanche have her phone number. Blanche found it funny, especially given Haynes' normal conservative self."

"Well, I'll tell you as a warm blooded man, Colleen is one of the more striking women I have ever seen, present company excluded. And then she speaks and that deep rich sexy voice comes out. It's like a smoker's voice from someone who doesn't smoke."

Caroline laughed,"Why Patten, you sound as smitten as Haynes is?"

"Well, let's say I totally agree with his taste." He smiled and put his hand on her knee. "You know I love you."

"Never doubted it for a moment. I also find her interesting. More than that, I am thrilled to see Haynes' enjoying himself."

"Oh, I definitely agree with you there."

Blanche and Roy had almost the same conversation as they drove home. So every agreed that they found Colleen striking, exotic, and sexy. Most importantly, Haynes' seemed happier than they had seen him in a long time.

Back at Haynes' home, Colleen was helping Haynes' clean up, despite his insistence that she was his guest and her help was not necessary. They chatted about the evening. Colleen had several questions about the other guests, which Haynes was happy to answer.

"I really enjoyed meeting Parker and Bob this evening. Parker is so much like you. And Bob is a scream."

"We all love Bob. He is a lot of fun. Although I will tell you, it has been a while since I have seen him react to someone as he has with you. Don't get me wrong, a chic, attractive, well dressed woman or man never goes by him unnoticed. But you may as well been Disney World and Christmas wrapped up together. When you walked in the Tea Room with that green dress on, I was thrilled to know he was gay. There was no way I could have competed with him for you."

Colleen leaned up against the kitchen island holding her large red wine glass,"I don't think I have ever had so much attention in my life."

Haynes smiled and walked up to her. "My dear, I can assure you have. Either you are being extremely modest or you are totally unaware of your allure." With that he gently kissed her on the lips. He took her hand, "Now let's go sit down in the den where it is comfortable."

The following morning at the Station, the Sheriff, Mary Lou, and Mike made a list of the patients from each of the files they had looked at. They noted the patient's address, as well as the names and addresses of any close relatives mentioned in each file.

At first after seeing no rhyme or reason to the names, the Sheriff decided to send a copy of the list of names to Theo at the Bank and another to the local churches. Theo could cross reference the names with names in the bank's system. The churches could compare them against their roles. The Sheriff reminded them to remember that these were older folks so they needed to look way back.

Most of the addresses were PO Boxes in Gallagher. After checking with the Post Office Clerk, Mary Lou learned that none of the PO Boxes listed were legitimate. Some were box numbers that did not exist, others had been in the same family for generations. Mike checked any Gallagher street addresses that they found in the files. None panned out. Oak Street only had 5 blocks (100-500) therefore 603 Oak Street did not exist. There was no "261" Magnolia, given the 200 block stopped at house number 250.

Several files referenced zip codes of towns and hamlets in Atasi county - the names of the towns noted not only failed to match the zip codes, mainly they did not exist.  And, if they were on the map, the noted street address did not exist.

Mike gave Bunny a list to cross reference as well. She ran through the names, nothing caught her eye until she came to 'McKissick'. Knowing they had a 'Hugh McKissick', she made a note and continued down the list. Nothing else stood out. Bunny called Mike, "I think I found something, at least a name." Bunny told Mike about Hugh. Mike asked for his address. She looked it up, to make sure she was correct. "102 Pine Street."

"Thanks Bunny," Mike said. "Can you look through his file and see if any thing - a word, a name, anything matches another word on that list I gave you."

"Like more names and addresses?"

"No, look at the words. For instance if Mr. McKissick formerly lived on Maryland Street at some time, look back at the list I gave you and see if there is a 'Maryland' - a person's name, the state of Maryland, anything that matches."

Bunny replied,"I'm confused. Why are we doing this? What does the street Hugh McKissick lived on have to do with a name on your list."

"Bunny, we do not think these people are real. We think someone made them up. To make up names, one usually uses words of things around them or names or addresses in their past."

"But what does Maryland Street have to do with this?"

"Nothing," said Mike, getting frustrated."That was an example."

"I don't understand. What if he never lived on 'Maryland' Street?"

Mike took a deep breath, regretting ever asking for Bunny's help. "Bunny, that was an example. Let's just say, as an example only, Mr. McKissick lived on Maryland Street at some time in his life. When you look down the list of patients. If you come to a patient with the 1st or last name of 'Maryland' or someone with an address in the state of Maryland, or a town named 'Maryland' then make a note of that."

"OK, I think I understand. I'll get to this today." He thanked her and they rang off.

Bunny pulled up Hugh's file and went to work, carefully searching for words from the file that matched anything in the list of patients' information.  It seemed futile until she came upon one of his former land ladies - a 'Helen Alexander'. Sure enough, there a patient on the list with the same name. He lived in Whitney, Texas at the time. There was no correlation between that town and anything on the list.

She kept looking.  One of his references was 'Bernard Birch'. There was no patient by that name, but one who lived on Birch Street. One of his former addresses was in Clarksville, Virginia. Ironically there was a patient listed as 'Virginia Clarksville".

Bunny got very excited, she understood what Mike was doing now. She called Mike,"I like this detective work. This is fun."

Mike replied,"Trust me, it is not always fun. Was anything in McKissick's file?"

Bunny told him about what she had found. She added, "But, no 'Marylands'."

"I thought you might find something, but did expect that much. I think we can safely say this is more than just a coincidence." Mike paused."Let me see," he paused again,"that gives us 4 word associations with his rental application alone - McKissick, Helen Alexander, Birch Street, Virginia Clarksville." Mike was quiet for a moment as he made notes. "What kind of car does he drive?"

"Car?" asked Bunny.

"You know, make and model - like a Ford Thunderbird."

Bunny looked through the file,"It's . . . .an Oldsmobile. An Aurora? Is that a type of car?"

"Yep, not only that but we have an 'Aurora Kincaide' on the list. That makes 5." Mike thought for a moment. "Bunny did he name a college or tech school he attended?"

"Ummm, yes but it didn't match anything. Hold on. Here it is FPC in Borger,TX."

"Never heard of it, let me look it up." Mike was quite for just a moment."Bingo! Frank Phillips College and . . . . yes! We have a file for a Mr. 'Frank Phillips'." Mike kept going. "When he rented from Ms. Alexander, where did he live?"

"I checked that, there was no match - it was Whitney, Texas."

"Bingo!!!" Mike said very excitedly. "The LLC that ran the Sanatorium when it closed was registered in Whitney, Texas. That may be the whole enchilada."

Confused, Bunny asked,"Mike, I didn't find anything about Mexican food in his file?"

Mike laughed,"I'll explain later. This is great work. Thanks Bunny." They rang off.

Mike relayed what Bunny had found back to the Sheriff, "We have several coincidences with McKissick. 5 words and/or names match names of patients, 1 name matches an address, and the winner - he once lived in Whitney, Texas, where the LLC is registered."

"Just because he lived in Whitney, Texas doesn't necessarily tie him to the LLC," laughed Mary Lou.

"Maybe not, but considering his land lady while he lived there was one Helen Alexander - also the name on one of our files, we're getting a might cozy, don't you think?"

"Well," said the Sheriff. "Call the Judge and see if this is enough to get a search warrant."

Mike said he would, but before he spoke with the Judge, he called Bunny. "Hey, have you seen our Mr. McKissick lately?"

"No, but we never see him. He never has an issue, a complaint, and always pays his rent on time. I wish all our renters were like that."

"How about asked Della?"

"Hold on." Bunny put Mike on hold and went to Della's desk to see if she knew anything.

She picked the phone up. "Della said yesterday that Mr. McKissick's keys and last rent check were in an envelope in the night drop box."

"Any note?"

"No, but she said Larry had already gone over there to make sure the place was clean and it was."

"Do you have time to let me in his apartment?"

"Sure."

"Great, I'll pick you up."

"When?"

"As soon as I can get there."

Mike stuck his head into the Sheriff's office,"Sir we don't need a warrant after all."

"Why not?"

"Our Mr. McKissick left town yesterday. I'm going to check his place out right now."

"Well, sounds as if we are getting close to something."

Mike left to go pick up Bunny.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Oh. . .My . . .God and a Single Rose

When Mike got to the station he found the Sheriff and Mary Lou standing in the Evidence Room going through a box that was sitting on a table. Mike walked up to the table, "What's going on?"

Mary Lou looked up,"A box of papers about people who do not exist?"

The Sheriff further explained, "Sheriff Smythe called me over to Baldwin county earlier today to meet him at the Sanatorium. He had a box of files they had found in the basement. His guys had gone through it earlier and separated the records according to the last location of residence."

"And, these are all from Atasi county?"

"Yep," the Sheriff said as he pulled another file out of the box. 

"But I thought we went over that list and didn't find anyone from Atasi county?"

"We did," said Mary Lou. "But we just had a list of 11 names with no addresses. All we could do was cross reference those names with our county's voter's rolls, tax records, etc."

"So these files have names and addresses?"

"That's right," said the Sheriff, still looking at a file. "This box has files containing names of 14 patients with addresses from our county."

"That's a few more than we had?"

"Well, these files are names and addresses of not only those initial 11, but an additional 3 names we have not seen," said Sheriff Quitman, as he flipped through the first file. "What we have here are extensive medical and personal records on citizens of our county who never existed."

"So they just created patients?"

Mary Lou smiled,"That's our guess. And then they billed the government for their care."

Mike laughed,"Well, those were easy to 'kill' off, weren't they?"

"That would be correct," laughed Mary Lou, "as well as eliminating having any pesky relatives hanging around and asking questions."

Mike just shook his head. "OK, so what do we do now?"

The Sheriff still did not look up from the file he was perusing, "Grab a file, go through it, and see if anything there would lead us anywhere." He paused as he read. "There may be a common name, or names in an address, or anything that seems to be in common with something here in the county. Right now, that's all we have to go on." He paused and looked up. "First thing, obviously, is to check the addresses."

Mike started going through the box of files. He looked up, "Sheriff, I am assuming that Sheriff Smythe had a box of files like this for Baldwin county?"

The Sheriff kept flipping through the file he was holding,"Yeah, but that was also a curious thing. He found only a few more files that were related to Baldwin County."

"Huh," said Mike as he selected several files. He carried them to his office. There he could check records, maps, and other county lists on his PC.

This was going to be a long night, so they sent out to Ed's for burgers and fries. Ed didn't have a delivery service per se. However, when he realized that he was contributing to an official case, he was happy to send food over. Ed asked no questions about what was going on. If nothing else, eventually Mae would get the scoop.

The 3 of them worked until 2 in the morning then called it a night. "Let's all get a good night's sleep, at least what's left of it. This will still be here tomorrow morning." The 3 closed the files they were working on and went home.

The following morning at the Rental Office, Della called Colleen and explained Haynes' request. Colleen naturally had questions about Haynes. Della was happy to share that he was from one of the older families and that she had known him all her life. He was a widower and retired. Colleen paused, "Would you give me his number?"

Della said, "Well, I didn't think about that."

"I would just feel more comfortable calling him first."

"That sounds fair enough. After all he is the one who wanted to get in touch with you." Della pulled up Haynes' home phone number from the local phone book (which was all of 4 pages, front and back). "All I have is his home number. If you cannot reach him, let me know. I'll call his son and get his cell number."

Della gave Colleen Haynes' home number. "If you need anything else, just give me a call."

"This is quite mysterious isn't it?" said Colleen.

"Personally, I find it romantic." They said their goodbyes and rang off.

Vivian walked in just as Della was ending her call, "What is romantic?"

"Oh, that was Colleen. She found the fact that Haynes was interested in her mysterious. I told her I found it romantic."

"Did she say it was OK for you to give Haynes her number?"

"Nope," said Della.

"Seriously? Maybe we should take her a bio and picture of him and let her reconsider."

Della laughed,"She asked for his number and said she would feel more comfortable calling him."

"That's impressive. She already has control of the relationship."

The door opened and Tim, from Lavenia's, walked in. He greeted everyone. Then he handed Della a single red rose.

"What's this for?"

"I don't know, I just deliver the flowers," Tim laughed.

"There is no card," Della asked Tim, "Who sent it?"

"Don't know that either?"

Della thanked Tim and he left.

Vivian and Bunny looked at her, "That is so sweet, you know that is from Sam."

Della shook her head. "I only wish. Sam only sends yellow roses since he is from Texas."

"Maybe he is trying to be mysterious?" smiled Bunny.

"Maybe Lavenia was out of yellow roses?" suggested Vivian.

"Well, I'm sure there are other yellow flowers Lavenia could have sent. Certainly she has some yellow lilies or daisies," Bunny said dead seriously.

Vivian just laughed,"Bunny if a man wants to send a rose, he is not going to be a happy customer if the florist sends a lily or a daisy." She shook her head. "If Sam ordered a yellow rose, the closest thing would be a red one."

Della looked at Bunny, "It's not the yellow color per se. Have you ever heard of the "Yellow Rose of Texas?"

Bunny shook her head, clueless. Vivian laughed, "It's just one of those things."

As far the rose, Della was not convinced, but she did get up, go into the small break room, and return with the single red rose in a bud vase she found in a cabinet. "I'll enjoy it any way. I do love flowers."

After much thought, Colleen did call Haynes. As it was, he was at home. They had been having a nice conversation for 20 minutes or so, when Haynes asked, "Colleen, I'm having a few friends over Friday evening for cocktails and dinner. Would you join us?"

Colleen paused, "Well I guess, it is safe in numbers."

Haynes laughed,"I promise you I am not a serial killer."

"Oh, I don't think that," Colleen laughed.

"I'll be glad to come pick you up."

"That would be nice." She gave him her address.

Haynes told her he would pick her up around 6:30, since the other guests were coming around 7. "As far as dress, I would say dressy casual."

Colleen laughed, "What? Not black tie?"

Haynes replied, trying to sound serious,"Never on a Friday night. Have you ever read Amy Vanderbilt's Complete Book of Etiquette? Chapter 3, I think page 45, no it's page 47, she clearly says Black Tie on a Friday is a 'No No'."

Colleen laughed,"Guess I missed that part."

"By the way, that green dress you were wearing at the Tea Room really caught my eye."

"So it was the dress and not me?"

"No, I'm trying to compliment you on your dress. Remember I'm asking you over to my house, not your little green dress."

Colleen laughed and they rang off.

Friday night Haynes picked Colleen up. He was not disappointed when she answered the door. She was wearing a striking pair of light brown silk pants that stopped short of her ankle.  Her red flats were tasteful considering her height. Her stylish red simple sweater with a bulky bronze necklace coordinated perfectly with her pants. Once again, Haynes was mesmerized.

When they arrived at Haynes' house, Colleen was surprised at its size. The Duieses had sold off much of the property of the original plantation, after all, as Haynes said - he did not ever see getting into farming. But they had kept the family home and ten acres. It was a lovely grey stone house that dated back to the early 1800's.

Around 7, the guests starting arriving. First were Bob and Parker. When they walked into the large den that ran half the length of the back of the house, Bob was the first to speak to Colleen. "Oh. . . my. . . God. My dear, you have done it again." He stood back and looked at her outfit. "You have no idea how great that green dress looked on you. And now this," he swept his hand in the air from Colleen's head to her her shoes. "Just divine!"

Bob kissed her hand when she offered it,"I get a bit excited sometimes."

Haynes and Parker walked up, "Colleen, this my son Parker, and this," he said pointing to Bob,"is Bob, his partner.

Parker offered his hand. "It's nice to meet you."

They all laughed.

Colleen replied,"It's nice to meet both of you."

Next Mercer and Iris came in followed by Caroline and Paten Hollingsworth then Blanche and Roy Sullivan. Haynes introduced Colleen to everyone. Colleen recognized Caroline and Blanche from the Tea Room. "This is Iris Barker," Haynes said turning to Iris and Mercer. Then Haynes put his arm around Mercer's shoulders, "And this is Mercer Magill. Make sure you get his number before you leave this evening. He is our town doctor. Best around, if you need anything." 

Colleen smiled, "That is very valuable information."

It was a comfortable group. Haynes made sure everyone felt at home - he was the ultimate host. Colleen felt comfortable with everyone there. She was very entertained by the comical stories Caroline and Blanche had about the Tea Room. Who could not love Bob and Parker was so much like his father - fun and a true gentleman.

Iris and Mercer walked out one of the three sets of French doors that opened from the den onto the large sprawling flagstone patio. Mercer spoke first,"I'm so glad you accepted my invitation."

"I'm so glad you invited me."

They sat next to each other on the low stone wall that edged the patio. As they sipped their wine, Mercer asked, "Iris, I know there is so much more to you than what you have shared. Also, I realize going through the past year or so has been traumatic - at best. I hope, if and when you are ready to talk about it, you will feel free enough to share it with me."

"Oh, it's no secret. I will always fight the daemons - so to say. And I will always see you as my knight in shining armor."

"Wow, I've been called many things, but no one has ever called me that."

They both laughed.

"What do you want to know?"

"Just a little about your past - where did you come from, grow up, go to school? What do you like to do?"

"OKaaaay. Well let's see. I did undergraduate at Duke, then went to Columbia for a Masters degree. After that I had the opportunity to study at Oxford."

"Oxford? Wow! I knew there was much to you. What is your Masters in?" Mercer took a sip of his wine.

Iris laughed, "Art history. While I was in England I managed to get a job with an art house. That allowed me to travel around the world searching for great art work."

"Did you enjoy the travel?"

"I did. And I tried to make the most of each place I went. I scaled mountains in Nepal, swam with the whale sharks off the Galapagos, walked part of the Camino de Santiago in Spain, traveled through Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan - before they were partially destroyed. "

"Wow!"

"When and where did you meet John?"

"In a museum - he was in London taking a short course about the Anglican church."

"And love brought you back to the states?" Mercer laughed. "You went from a world traveling art dealer to a minister's wife?"

"Yes."

"How'd that go?"

"Really well for several years. John was not your typical uptight minister. He was interesting, well read, and fearless." Iris looked toward the house and smiled, "He would try anything, at least once.  John believed in God but more as the Holy Spirit rather than a deity telling us we were all sinners unless we followed the straight and narrow road, if that makes sense. He believed that religion was a personal thing for everyone. He set an example." Iris laughed, "Like the movie, 'Field of Dreams', he believed if you build it, they will come."

"I always heard good things about John. Only met him once, but I felt as if I had known him all my life."

"That was John." Iris took a sip of her wine. "Everything was going well until we decided to start a family, and you know the rest."

Mercer smiled and put his hand on top of hers. "You are past that. I know the scars and nightmares may continue, but you are a lady of strength and you have a lot of life in front of you."

"You make it sound easy."

"It's not, but you are making your way and doing very well at it."

They were interrupted by Haynes calling them for dinner. "I know you two are solving all the problems of the world, but if you could take a break, dinner's ready."

Iris and Mercer laughed and followed him into the house.

Friday, January 12, 2018

It's All in the Friends, the Make-Up, and Fairies

As it was, Bunny, Vivian, and Della got tied up at work, so they arrived at the Tea room later than they planned. Instead of noon for lunch, it was 5 o'clock, just in time for the Apres High Tea Hour. They were not aware of the new offerings. However, when Grice brought them 2 menus, 1 for tea and food, and a 2nd for cordials and wines, they did not complain.

All three ladies ordered glasses of white wine and a plate with a variety of small sandwiches, Hattie's cheese straws, and a few scones. They were about halfway through their 1st glass of wine when Parker and Bob walked in.

As Blanche seated them at the table next to the ladies, she said with a smile, "Well, I thought you may be coming back, but I did not expect this afternoon."

"Well," smiled Bob,"we did not want to disappoint you."

"Oh, by the way, did you get the number of that lady Dad was interested in?" asked Parker.

"No, I haven't yet. But please tell him I am working on it." Blanche smiled, "Grice will be right over." With that, Blanche turned and made her way through the dining room to the kitchen.

Parker saw the ladies at the next table, "Well look who we have here!"

Everyone spoke. Parker suggested,"Let's get a larger table so we can all sit together. Will that work?" The ladies agreed. Parker got up and left the table to tell Grice they were all moving. After they were settled and the guys had ordered drinks, they started catching up with each other.

Bunny turned toward Parker and asked,"What lady were you asking Blanche about?"

"We were in here earlier today with Dad. This good looking woman walked in and Dad was smitten. He asked Blanche about her. She told him that her name was Colleen Cantrell. Dad asked if Blanche could get Ms. Cantrell's number for him." Parker replied and took a sip of his wine.

Bob laughed,"Parker, I love your Dad, but, honestly, I haven't seen anyone smitten like that since high school."

Parker also laughing, "Oh, I agree."

Bunny quickly chimed in, "Oh, I know who she is. She just moved here. She is renting a cottage from us on Elm street."

Bob put his glass down,"But the important thing is - do you have her phone number?"

Della chimed in, "I do."

Parker excitedly said, "Yes, that's great. Can I get it?"

Della gave Parker a sly look,"Well it will cost you."

Bob started laughing before Parker could say anything,"If Parker won't pay up, I will."

"Seriously," Parker said, "Can I get her number or do you think that would be some violation of her privacy?"

"How 'bout I do this - I'll call her, briefly explain the situation, and ask if I can pass her phone number on to you."

Vivian spoke for the first time, "That sounds fair to me."

Parker looked at Della, "I'll call you tomorrow."

They went on talking about other things, including Sam's assignment. Just before 6:30 they decided to move their little party to Dot's. Della's mood was definitely better. Bunny called Mike and he came down and joined them.

"Where's Terse?" Della asked Vivian.

"On a book tour."

Bunny enthusiastically said,"That sounds so exciting. Being on TV, meeting all these famous people."

Parker looked at Bunny,"Terse is a famous person."

Della, picking on Bunny, said,"I bet if you ask, he'll give you his autograph."

Everyone laughed. Vivian added, "Well, he will tell you having to go through make-up with a stylist for each TV interview only to give the same answers to the same questions, is far from 'exciting'."

"Make-up?" asked Bunny, "Why Terse is sohhh good lucking, why does he need make up?"

Mike just shook his head, "Bunny everyone on television wears make-up, a lot of it."

Della added, "Why do you think they are so good looking - every day?"

Bunny was honestly taken aback, "So Sonja on TV9 is not beautiful? She looks so beautiful every day. I'd love to look like her."

Bob had had just enough to drink,"Bunny, you do look like her," referring to Bunny's penchant for wearing a great deal of makeup."

Oblivious to the meaning behind Bob's comment, Bunny said (very honestly)"Bob, thank you. That's the nicest thing you have ever said to me."

Everyone at the table laughed. Bunny looked at them, a bit puzzled. Parker jumping in to save the situation, said," Of course you look like her." He looked at Bob, "I just never put the two of you together." There was some quiet giggling at the table.

Bunny just blushed under her layers of concealer, base, and pancake makeup, as she took another sip of her Mai Tai. The conversation continued about other general subjects and local gossip. A great time was being had by all.

That was until Mike's phone rang. He answered it, "Yes sir." He was quiet as he listened. Then he replied,"I'll be right there."

He put his phone back in his pocket. "Sorry folks, but I need to leave. Duty calls." Everyone said their goodbyes and Bunny gave him a quick kiss.

Bob laughed, "I bet Sheriff Quitman is not going to be too happy when his deputy shows up a bit tipsy."

Vivian looked at Bob, "Won't happen. Mike's been drinking straight ginger-ale."

Parker looked at Bunny and asked, "Seriously, what can you tell me about this Colleen Cantrell?"

Bob added, "Besides the fact that she has fantastic taste in clothes. That dress she was wearing was to die for."

Parker looked at Bob, "I'm afraid green is not your color."

Everyone howled.

Bunny answered, "Well she is very tall and nice looking. She has this sexy smoker's voice - you know the kind you hear in old movies? Besides that I do not know anything about her."

Parker asked,"Where did she move here from?"

Della answered,"We don't know. On her rental application, she did not fill that part out."

Bob asked,"Isn't that required?"

"Well, according to Wade, if you are clean when you come in the office and can pay the deposit, we really do not need know where you came from," answered Della.

Bob asked,"Isn't that discrimination? Requiring them to be clean?"

Vivian laughed and added,"I don't think so, since it doesn't matter what gender they are, what color they are, if they are married with children or single."

Della added, "They can be Catholics, Rastafarians, Jews - faith doesn't matter."

Vivian added, "Even Baptists are welcome."

This brought a loud laugh from the table.

Della finished,"She came in, was clean, and paid with a Gold Am Ex, which went through with no issue, and set-up her rent through automatic monthly payments."

Bunny looked perplexed, "What's a Rastafarian?"

Bob, being a smart ass, answered,"Those are folks who worship fairies?"

Vivian, having had just enough wine, said,"Like you and Parker."

Everyone laughed except Bunny. Who sat there for a moment before she asked, "Do these Rastfaries have a church?"

Della, trying to explain, "Bunny, Bob Marley was probably the most famous Rastafarian."

"Bob Marley?" Bunny asked.

Della, just looked at her and said, "Bunny, don't worry about it. I doubt we ever have a Rastafarian ever come in the office. And, if one does, I'll make sure you know."

"OK, please do. I've just never heard of that religion."

They talked for a while. Bunny got up to go to the ladies room. While she was gone, Bob looked at the rest of the party and said, "$1000 to the first person who shows up to Wade's office, when Bunny is there, with a Rastafarian." They all laughed. Bob continued, "And, I'm talking dread locks and all."

"So 'fairies' won't do?" asked Parker.

"No, 'fairies' don't count," snickered Bob.

Bunny came back to the table and everyone decided it was time to go home. Bunny was walking ahead, talking to Parker. Della turned to Vivian, "Why do I have the sneaking suspicion we will have a Rastafarian show up at the office in the next week or two?"

Della laughed quietly, "No doubt, just a matter of when." She paused, then said with a quiet giggle, "Want to make a bet on how long it will be?"

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Wallpaper, Crystal, Cordials, and Wine

"Rascal, Solly here," the Baldwin County Sheriff said,"the saga continues."

"Somehow, I'm not surprised."

"I think you better come see this."

Filled with curiosity, Rascal told Solly he would be there later that afternoon. They rang off.

The Sheriff walked into Mary Lou's office, put his hat on his head, and announced, "Sheriff Smythe says he has something for me to see. I'm going over. No telli'n when I'll be back."

"I'll hold the fort down," Della said, not even looking up from her computer.

The Sheriff walked out of the station.

Meanwhile at Duiese and Maybank, Parker picked up his phone to hear his father's (Haynes Duiese) voice.  "How you doing?"

"Just fine and you. What's up?"

"Have you and Bob checked out the Tea Room?"

"No, not yet. We've talked about it but just haven't gotten there."

"Well, why don't the 3 of us meet there for lunch today, my treat?"

"Sounds good, we'll meet you there, say noon?"

"Great. Don't you want to ask Bob first?"

"Don't have to, he would cancel any plans he had to have lunch with you."

Haynes laughed, "See y'all there at noon." They rang off.

At the rental company Bunny insisted that Della go to lunch with her and Vivian. "Della, you cannot just mourn about like a sick puppy. We all miss Sam. You know he is crazy over you."

Vivian spoke up,"You know we're here for you. We will do anything for you that will help."

Della laughed.

Vivian added,"Well, almost anything." 

Haynes walked into the front door of the Tea Room at noon. Caroline greeted him, "Why Haynes, aren't you being brave?"

Haynes gave her a kiss on the cheek. "I figure my money is as green as anyone else's."

"Don't get me wrong, everyone is welcome here."

"The boys are meeting me, so I need a table for 3."

"We can do that." Carolina picked up 3 menus and said,"This way." She led Haynes to table in the middle of the room. "Let me know if I can do anything for you. Grice will take good care of you."

In less than 5 minutes Parker and Bob walked in, saw Haynes, and made their way to his table. Haynes stood up and shook the hands of both gentleman.

As Parker sat, put his napkin in his lap, and looked around,"Wow, they have out done themselves."

Bob added, "Oh, I agree beautiful, but not over the top, fancy but tasteful, formal, yet still comfortable." Bob continued to take in the decorations. "Parker, isn't that wallpaper Fifth and Foster?"

"It looks like it, but that's something you would know more about that I do."Parker picked up his water goblet," But this is definitely Waterford."

"Sorry to disappoint you, that is Massena by Baccarat,"Bob picked up his goblet, "Hold on, I may be wrong. It could Jupiter. I always get those 2 patterns confused. No, it's Massena."

Haynes just laughed and shook his head. "All, I know is that it is fancy glass, and I would assume it was some crystal pattern versus some jelly bar brand." They all laughed.

Haynes added,"How in the world would you know the difference between Waterford and Baccarat?"

Bob smiled,"Well, I thought if I ever got married, I would register for a Baccarat crystal pattern. Waterford is so de rigueur."

Haynes laughed,"Figures you would know. Blair had Waterford crystal and we have a few Baccarat vases around the house."

Parker laughed,"I'm surprised you would know."

"I don't always live under a rock."

Parker raised his water goblet. "A toast to Dad!"

Bob smiled, "If only we had wine."

Just as he said that, they looked up to see Grice at their table. "Well, you know that we do serve a selection of cordials and wine every afternoon between 4:30 and 6:30."

"Really?" said Parker, "Well that is good to know, considering our office is only 3 doors down. We can come here for our first drink after work."

They ordered a selection of sandwiches, scones, and tea. Their conversation continued. Haynes had always been close to his son. After his wife, Blair, died, they became even closer. He treated Bob like another son. Haynes dated a bit, but it was more escorts for social occasions than official 'Dates'. Parker just wanted his father to be happy whether that was single, dating, or remarried.

Caroline checked on them. "Doing OK?"

Bob smiled,"Better than OK, you didn't tell us you had a 'Happy Hour'?"

"Well, it's not exactly a 'Happy Hour'. We call it our 'Apres High Tea Hour'. It is was a request from some of our regulars."

Haynes laughed,"Caroline, I'm not sure whether these boys are more enthused about the wall paper, the Baccarat crystal, or the cordials and wine."

Everyone laughed.

"Well, I hate to disappoint you, but you will not always have Baccarat. Blanche spent some time and as well as least money as possible, scouring Ebay and estate sales gathering a selection fine crystal as well as China for the Tea Room before we opened. You will see that each table is set and served with an eclectic assortment of crystal, China, and sterling."

Caroline picked up Bob's goblet,"This is Massena by Baccarat." She pointed to Parker's goblet, "While Parker has Jupiter and Haynes, you have Marquis by Waterford."

Before Parker could say anything Bob spoke up,"I was only talking about the pattern of my goblet."

"Sure you were," said Parker.

Everyone laughed.

Caroline added,"Well, in Bob's defense, those 3 patterns are very similar."

Grice showed up with their meal. As she placed the plates at each of their places, Caroline thanked the gentlemen and stepped away.

They were finishing their last cup of coffee when a tall, very attractive lady walked in. She wore a dupioni silk sheath that looked as if it was made just for her with a coordinating leather clutch in her hand. Her brunette hair was swept up in a perfect bob. She wore nice, but conservative jewelry. The 3 of them watched her as she was seated several tables over.

Grice came with the bill, which Haynes paid. Both Bob and Parker thanked him. As they walked out, Haynes caught Blanche's eye. She walked over. "I didn't see you over there. You know I would have come and at least spoke."

Haynes said,"No problem. The meal was fantastic. We will be back." He kissed her on her cheek. Then he smiled, "But there is one way you can make-up your social faux pas of ignoring us."

Blanche smiled,"Of course."

"Who is the lady who just walked in wearing the green dress?"

"She has been in here once. Think she just moved to Gallagher. Pretty sure her name is 'Colleen Cantrell'. I don't know anything else about her. But, she is striking isn't she?"

"Striking? I would say mesmerizing." Haynes smiled. "If there is anyway you can get her phone number I would appreciate it."

"I'll do what I can." They said their goodbyes and Haynes, Bob, and Parker walked out.

"Good move Dad," Parker said with a smile. "I agree, she is mesmerizing."

Bob added,"And that sheath, that green dupioni silk - she has good taste."

Parker looked at Bob,"Seriously!"

"Well she does," said Bob with no apology.

Parker and Bob thanked Haynes again for lunch. They shook hands. Haynes left for home and Bob and Parker left for their office. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Q.G.Hampton Rentals and Housing Co. Empire

The following morning, Bunny and Vivian happened to walk into the office at the same time. They were laughing about the conversation they had had with Art the previous afternoon. Vivian said,"I'm not sure he knows what happened to him."

"Oh, I think he was nice."

"Bunny, of course he was nice. If he was ugly, no one would talk to him. He needed to talk to many of us as possible to write his story."

"Well, I guess so."

"Bunny, you realize he was more interested in finding out bad stuff about Terse than good?"

"Why would he do that? We all know Terse is nice person and has never done anything wrong."

"Bunny, do you read those magazines about the movie stars that talk about someone getting so fat, or a star cheating on his wife, or one is near death." 

Looking very serious, Bunny replied, "If I don't buy the magazine, I at least read the front when I see the magazine on the rack at the Rexall Pharmacy."

"Everyone is more interested in the bad stuff, what someone has done wrong - that they have cheated in a relationship, have a drinking problem. That was what Art wanted to find. But, Terse is not like that. I think the worse thing that ever happened to Terse was his not being serious about a job after college and he is not embarrassed about that. It was that job at the Press-Register that led to his career in writing."

"Really? So Art did not want  to hear nice things about Terse?"

"Well some nice things, but the dirt was worth more to him."

By this time they were in the office. It was very obvious things were not going well with Della. Bunny walked over to her. "Della, honey, are you OK? Has something happened?"

With tears in her eyes, Della said, 'It's Sam."

"What about Sam?" asked Vivian. "Is he OK?"

Della answered, "He is fine. He has been called on a long term assignment - for a year. And he cannot tell me where he will be. He cannot tell me anything. He'll be gone for at least a year. And I will not know anything." She started crying.

Vivian walked behind Della's Desk and put her arms around Della's shoulders,"Honey, we'll be here for you. That's his job. You have to trust him."

Della stopped sobbing, "I know, I will just miss him."

Bunny smiled, "We all will."

The three of them talked some more then each went to her own desk and they started the day. It was the first of the month, the date rents were due. That was a red letter day at the Q.G.Hampton Rentals and Housing Co. By just looking at the office and the small staff, one may think that this was a small town, small time operation - maybe renting a few 321's Wade had picked up when the government sold them at auction.

That was far from the truth. Wade had inherited several of the older buildings (circa early 1900's) on the main street that faced the park in the center of town. As a young man he had managed to buy several more, using the rental income to finance the mortgages,  maintenance on each, and renovations if necessary. These properties were then leased to local businesses.

His pride and joy was the old Beauregard Hotel at 112 Oak Street. He had put a lot of money into restoring the old building trying to maintain as much of the original character as possible.  He had also made the second and third floors of the buildings on the park into nice apartments. In doing so, he had made a point of keeping as much of the original interior as possible, including the original hardwood floors and any other fixtures that still remained in the buildings.

Wade had also snapped up small craftsman cottages as well as some of the larger homes from families who were ready to sell the properties as they settled their parents' and grandparents' estates. The volume of homes, apartments, business locations, and buildings had made Wade a very wealthy man. One of the secrets of his success was having nice attractive properties, quick  and efficient customer service by his staff, and excellent maintenance.

Just because someone rented from Wade did not mean they could not afford their own home. Many folks found it much easier, more efficient, and convenient to rent from Wade, than own a home themselves. Wade was most happy to put their money into his bank account. There had been no debt on the properties for so long that there was a significant profit even after insurance, taxes, maintenance, and the cost of his staff were covered. 

Maisy Ruth had paid by automatic draft since she moved in. Now Terse had his first book behind him. Now he could pay attention to other details - such as paying his rent so his rent was also handled by automatic draft. Ed always paid his Diner's rent in cash. He and Wade worked a deal that was beneficial to both and, as Ed often said, screwed that G**  D***  IRS to the wall. Lavenia, Frank, Heddie, Millie Quinn (Millie's Cut and Curl), and Dr. Magill had no desire to tangle with the IRS, therefore their rent was paid on time with a company check. 

Wade also had a philanthropic side. The Episcopal church's investments took a slide south due to their entire account being put into a new winery in upper Alabama. They knew it would be several years before they saw any profits from the investment, given the vines were new. However, a plague that wiped out every plant in every field, was disastrous news. The vineyard went bankrupt and what was left was sold at auction. It looked at one time that the Church of the Seven Walls and Three Stones  would be going down that same path. 

When Wade got word of this problem, he contacted Bob Maybank and met with him at the accounting office. Wade made Bob assure him that their meeting and everything having to do with it would be held in the strictest confidence. Wade gave a Bob a check for the same amount of money the church had originally invested in the vineyard. "Now," said Wade, "I need you to get these funds invested into a safe, but productive, Spider Fund. And, I want to make sure this is totally anonymous."

Bob assured him that he would. Wade added,"This should cover my ass not being in church for some time." 

Bob laughed,"Wade, I don't think even this much money will get you a seat in heaven."

Wade stood up to leave,"I'm not trying to get to heaven Bob, I'm just trying to weasel my way out of Hell."

Bob just shook his head with a smile. They exchanged pleasantries and Wade left.

The Baptist church always rented a house for their current minister at the time. So this was the Barker's home that had burned. Iris had been allowed to stay in the house until a new minister was hired and moved to Gallagher. Wade was not charging Iris for the cottage where she was currently staying. He had yet to decide what to do with the property on which the burned house was located.

Walter had worked a deal to handle Wade's Cafe bill. At the end of each month they would settle up. Sometimes Walter owed Wade money, but more often Wade was in debt to Walter. Since Wade ate many of his meals in the Starlight Cafe, it was not unusual for him to send Walter cash to cover the amount of his tab that was more than the Starlight's monthly rent.

If the first of the month was on a Monday, Mae's rent would be a day late. She paid Wade with her tip money. Since the majority of that was in coins, she needed to go to the bank and have it converted to bills. If there was more there than her rent, she would have the bank deposit the difference into her Christmas Club Account. Of course, the Eldridge twins came in the office, together, to pay their rent in cash. The difference with them was that most cash payments were made directly to Wade. In turn he would work with Vivian on how the money was put on the books - or not. The twins rent was paid and noted in cash.

The pharmacy's rent was paid directly from the Rexall Corporation.  Other renters included the Haney's (the Barker's neighbor), Hugh McKissick (a young man the townspeople rarely saw), Bates (Anna Belle's chef),  as well as Andrew (Anna Belle's butler). Some of the other happy residents included Imogene and Joe Wadsworth (the town cop and his wife) and Hattie (the chef and partner at the Tea Room).

Since these businesses were seen as Gallagher "Institutions" it had been years since Wade had increased anyones rent. And chances were one was not coming in the future. An outsider could say that Wade owned a good deal of the town, which was true. Some would say he was building an empire. Wade looked at it as preserving Gallagher, and giving residents good clean well maintained homes for reasonable prices. Looking at it this way, it was a win-win.