Friday, January 26, 2018

Operation "Lady in Distress"

Before Dawn, Rayanne parked her Oldsmobile behind the hedge and under the Starlight Cafe bill board. Ella pulled out a thermos of lemonade and some pastries she had made for their Cre Uisce Aer surveillance. They were on their official 'stakeout'. The angle and size of the billboard hid the car nicely. The hedge gave them cover as they watched the gate to the estate. Both women had brought binoculars. Their main focus was on the very fancy wrought iron gates guarding the only entrance through the old brick wall that ran along the roadside in front of the estate. A middle aged man was posted at the gate to check the vehicles coming in.

"Well, he's not armed," commented Rayanne.

Around 7 am, the first vehicle approached the entrance. It was a pickup. The words,'Grand Antique Wrought Iron Restoration" were written on the passenger door. The ladies watched the guard at the gate speak to the driver of the truck. The gates opened, the truck drove through, and the gates closed behind it. Over the next hour or so, several more trucks and vans approached the gate and were admitted. The gate closed after each one passed through.

By 9:30, there was no traffic on the road. It had been a while since anyone had approached the gate. Ella put her binoculars down and spoke quietly, as she kept her eyes on the entrance, "I'm not sure what we have accomplished here. I haven't recognized anyone so far."

"So what should we do now?" asked Rayanne.

"I'm thinking." After a pause, Ella quietly said to Rayanne. "We need to get in that gate."

"Duh, you think so, Captain Obvious!"

"I have an idea."

"And, what would that be?"

"A lady in distress - works every time." Ella shared her plan with Rayanne who was really surprised at what a great idea it was. The ladies got back into the car. Rayanne quietly drove across the field behind the sign to a dirt road. She turned to the right when they reached the road. The ladies were able to get back to town, without having to reveal their hiding place.

Rayanne dropped Ella off at her home. As Ella got out of the door, she turned to Rayanne, "Just wait for my phone call, then you know what to do."

Rayanne laughed,"I really like Plan B."

Rayanne drove off. Ella went in her house, put up all her PI equipment, and changed clothes. She got into her tan Buick Regal and backed out of her driveway. Nonchalantly, she drove down Magnolia, turned on Moss. One more turn and she was headed out of Gallagher on the country road that ran in front of Cre Uisce Aer. About a quarter mile before the entrance to the estate, where the guard sat, she pulled her car over on the shoulder of the road. Ella got out of the car and lifted the hood. Anyone driving by could not help but notice this lady in distress.

She carefully removed a can of oil from the floor of her back seat. Making sure no one was coming down the road, Ella gently opened the can. She bent over the engine and poured a cup or 2 of the oil down an opening on the side of the engine so that it puddled under the car. Smoke slowly rose from the hood as the cool oil hit the hot engine.

Leaving the hood open, she put the can of oil into a plastic bag to keep it from spilling. After safely placing the bag in the trunk of the car, she took a seat behind the wheel.  Picking up her cell phone, she called Rayanne. "Project 'Lady in Distress' is on."  Ella got her handbag off the front seat, took her keys, and started walking down the road to 'find help'.

It did not take her but a few minutes to reach the entrance of Cre Uisce Aer. She approached Doyle, the guard, who stood up as soon as soon as he saw her. "Oh, I hope you can help me. It seems I have had some car trouble." She pointed down the road toward her disabled vehicle. "Could I use a phone to call for help?"

"Certainly." He walked back to his chair and picked up his cell phone. As he handed it to Ella, he laughed,"You are welcome to use my phone." He smiled, "You don't have a cell phone? I thought everyone in the world had one."

Ella laughed as she looked at the phone. "I have never needed one." She kept her eyes on the phone, "Never have been good with new fangled things. Why, I have problems making my coffee maker work." She looked up, "I've got one of those fancy ones with all kind of buttons and nobs. I always seem to mash the wrong ones. The damn thing is smarter than I am." She paused, "Excuse me," she looked up,"where are the buttons? I do not see any place to dial."

The gentleman softly laughed and shook his head. "The keyboard is on the screen." He took his finger, pressed the screen, and the numerical pad appeared.

"Wow, now isn't that fancy."

Ella dialed Rayanne's number and stopped. She handed the phone back to the man. "I'm afraid I didn't do something right, it doesn't sound like it is ringing."

Doyle reached across Ella's arm. "You have to press this button for the call to go through." He pressed the green circle at the bottom of the screen.

Rayanne's phone rang twice before she answered. "Rayanne, this is Ella. I was driving out the Old Wire Road when something happened to my car." Ella paused. "It just cut off, luckily I was able to coast to the side of the road." She paused again, "No, don't call him yet. Can you come get me and take me back to town." She paused. "I knew you would save me. You always do. I'm at the gate at the entrance to the old Cre Uisce Aer estate." She paused, "Thanks Rayanne."

Ella handed the phone back to Doyle. He pressed the "OFF" button to end the call.

"My best friend Rayanne is coming to get me. When I get back to town, I'll get Charlie at the filling station to come out and take care of the car.  Funny thing is - my Buick is only a couple years old, and Rayanne drives this 20 year old 98. I'm the one always having car trouble, she never seems to have any problems with her car."

Ella looked around. "What in the world is going on here? No one's been at this place for years." She looked toward the house. "Such a shame what happened to the family - for them to lose the home place that had been in their family forever."

Doyle gazed in the same direction as Ella. "Don't know much about the history, but it is a beautiful house."

"Someone must have bought the place. Not anyone in town, that I know. Gallagher is such a small town." She turned back to Doyle and held her hand over her brow to shade the sun from her eyes. "You're not from here, are you?"

"No mam, I'm from Mobile. Lived there old my life."

"So you are working for the new owner?" She got no reply.  She pivoted "These gates are lovely, but I don't think I've ever seen them closed. The Fitzgeralds always kept them open - more hospitable you know."

She turned to Doyle, "Please excuse me, I guess I'm just so rattled, I did not even introduce myself.  My mama raised me better than that. My name is Ella, Ella Osborne."

"I'm Doyle Smithers."

"So nice to meet you Doyle. You are my knight in shining armor this morning."

Ella heard a car turn onto the drive. She turned, expecting Rayanne. Instead she saw an older model Mercedes sedan. The car stopped and an extremely handsome man stepped out. He was tall and lean, with a weathered face and snow white hair. Before he could say anything, Doyle said, "Sir, this lady has had some car trouble. She walked up here to call for help?"

"That must be your Buick on the road with the hood up?" he said in a deep voice with a light Irish brogue. 

"Yes," Ella sighed,"I'm afraid it is. But I have a friend coming to get me." She held her hand out, I'm Ella Osbourne." 

He took her hand and said, "Pearce Phinnigan - nice to meet you."

"Are you the one who has bought this place?"

"Yes mam, I have."

"Must need a lot of work?" Ella said as she looked up the drive toward the house.

"Well," he laughed,"It is a labor of love. As it has turned out, it is  truly a labor."

Ella swayed a bit and opened her arms, as if to help her balance herself. "Oh my, I suddenly feel a bit woozy." No one said anything. Ella continued, "Can I please sit down?"

"Certainly," Doyle said as he carefully helped her to his chair with Pearce following. When she was settled,  Pearce asked,"Are you OK? Can I get you anything? "

"Just a little faint," Ella said weakly. "It happens to me sometimes."

"Let me get you some water. Actually, let's get you out of this sun. Do you think you can walk to my car?"

Ella nodded her head and quietly said,"I think so."

Pearce helped her into his car. As he walked around to the driver's door he said, "Doyle, when Miss Ella's friend arrives, will you make sure she gets to the house?" He nodded and opened the gates.

Ella was amazed at what she saw. The house looked as if it had never abandoned. The stone walls were clean and cleared of all the vines that once covered them. There were men unloading large pieces of flag stone from a truck. Other men were moving the stones onto the driveway, where even more men with mortar, were setting them in place. Ella assumed to pave the drive.

The side garden, the first traditional English Garden Ella remembered seeing as a child, was being cleaned up.  A crew of men were weeding, trimming, and pulling weeds.  Other men came and went through the front door,  taking pieces of building material into the house.

Pearce parked the car in a graveled area next to the house. "As you can tell, this is a work in progress. Please be careful, you are in a construction zone." He walked around, opened her door, and helped Ella out of the car.

Ella was so excited to get to see the old house, she had to remember she was 'feeling' faint. Pearce led her into the house where workers were hammering and sawing. "If you will have a seat here," he said indicating an antique settee in the hall. "I'll get you some cold water. Can I get you anything else?"

"No," she said as weakly as she could. "But thank you."

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