When I look out my hotel room it is cloudy and breezy. It was rather chilly last night, so we'll see what today is like. Not that we'll be outside much. I don't have much time to write now.
This has been a busy week. It always is when we are trying to get things ready to leave for conferences. Light of Faith is very busy right now and we're helping this weekend and next weekend and on the last day of April.
Since my birthday is on Sunday, I thought I'd have a little celebration right now and right here. I didn't think you would mind. So, I'm going to post the next two parts of Mystery at Random for you to enjoy. I hope you are enjoying it, but it's hard to know since I haven't had a comment since the first week I posted it. That is one reason I don't like to post the same story several weeks in a row. No one leaves comments. I'm not sure if you all just forget, or are going to do it when the story ends or think you'll leave one next week, but whatever the reason, no comments get left and then I don't know if the story is any good or not. I know I leave you hanging, but I don't like to post too long of stories because then no one would read them. :}
All that said, here is Mystery at Random Parts 5 & 6!
“I did a little quick checking and corroborated that fact. The other person missing was Red Simpson. I haven’t been able to fully verify his absence yet, but I’m working on it.”
Chief Gallant nodded. “Good.”
“Where did you say Red was, Hansen?” Officer Erikson asked.
“I didn’t say. I’m still checking on things. Mrs. Simpson was at work last night and I haven’t had a chance to stop by and talk with her.”
Erikson frowned. “Just don’t let those kids pull the wool over your eyes, Hansen, just because your boy is one of them.”
Officer Hansen merely nodded. He knew Erikson was already suspicious of the Okeefenokees. He hadn’t been living in Random long and he had come from a big city. He didn’t know these kids like most of the townsfolk knew them.
“Keep up the investigation, Hansen,” the chief ordered, “but I can’t take you off patrol right now.”
“I know, Sir. I can keep my eyes and ears open. This story is probably going to be in every house before night. Surely we’ll be able to get a lead or something. Nothing can remain a secret very long in this town.”
Chief Gallant laughed. “You can say that again! Well, both of you keep on with the investigations. Erikson, have you put flags out this morning?”
“Yes, sir. Just before I came in.”
“Good. Keep an eye on them. We’ll see if there is any sort of pattern to when they disappear.”
“I can’t play ball,” Red sighed. “I have to go help my uncle mow his grass.”
Dan and Jeff exchanged quick glances and Dan shook his head ever so slightly. “I’ll come help you,” Dan offered. “That way you’ll be done sooner.”
Red shrugged. “Okay.”
“I’d go along,” Jeff said, “but it’s rather silly to have three people trying to mow with one mower. Why don’t the rest of us go play some catch until you two get there?”
“Yeah,” several voices called out.
So, the Okeefenokees, minus Dan and Red, raced for the park several minutes later.
“Say, Jeff, look.” Patsy paused beside him and pointed to the police memorial. “There are two flags.”
Jeff nodded. “I guess someone put some out not too long ago ‘cause when I went by earlier, there weren’t any. Now we know they were here. Come on,” he urged, “don’t be too obvious. Let’s go play.”
The sun was right in the middle of the deep blue sky when the Okeefenokees, tired and hungry after playing ball all morning scattered for their homes and lunch. Everyone scattered except three. Dan, his sister Patsy, and Jeff. The three of them paused a moment in the shade of a tree and held a quick, low conversation.
“Red’s uncle has a broken leg,” Dan began. “That’s why Red’s been helping him.”
“Any sign of missing flags?”
Dan shook his head.
“All was fine here too.” Jeff looked over at the flags blowing gently in the summer breeze. “The flags are still there and everyone is gone. Let’s go eat.”
Grimly stopping his patrol car, Officer Erikson got out and stalked over to the police memorial. “Gone again!” he fumed. “And those kids were here not fifteen minutes ago. I’ll bet anything they are the culprits. Probably stealing them just to see if they can get away with it.” As he muttered, Erikson had slowly moved around the monument. “Ah ha!” he exclaimed, stopping short and bending down for a closer look. “Another footprint and a broken flower. Hasn’t been broken for long though. It had to have been those kids. I know what gangs are like. And, what’s this? If this doesn’t pin the evidence where it rightfully belongs than my name isn’t Ezra Erikson.”
During the quick drive to the Random Police Headquarters, Officer Erikson sighed several times. As much as he had been confident from the first about the Okeefenokees’ involvement with the missing flags, he also felt rather sorry for Officer Hansen, for he had been so sure his son was hanging out with an honest group of kids. He half wished he had not discovered that last bit of evidence. But it was too late to do anything about it now.
“All that is, Erikson,” Chief Gallant said, “is circumstantial evidence. You didn’t see them taking the flags, did you?”
“No, Sir. But I wasn’t away more than fifteen minutes, and the last time I drove by they were still playing. You don’t think that in fifteen minutes those kids would have ended their game, all gone home, and then someone else came and took the flags before I reached the park, do you? I would have seen them, I’m sure.”
Chief Gallant heaved a deep sigh. This was getting more complicated. Why would the Okeefenokees take the flags? He already knew Officer Erikson’s opinion on that question. Now he looked at the other officer in the room. “Hansen, what do you think?”
Josh Hansen had been listening quietly to his fellow officer’s report and thoughts. Now, since the chief had asked for his opinion, he spoke. “I think if we only have this small amount of evidence with nothing to back it up except that the Okeefenokees were playing ball just before the flags were missing, it would be a little premature to accuse them openly. I checked on Red Simpson and his reason for being absent from the Okeefenokees’ fence painting party is satisfactorily accounted for. I would like your permission, Sir, to do a little more checking and talk to my son and a few others about this again before any charges are brought against the Okeefenokees.”
To this request Chief Gallant agreed in spite of Officer Erikson’s evident disapproval.
At the Okeefenokees’ club house that afternoon, things were beginning to hum. Jeff had slipped back to the park after his quickly eaten lunch only to discover the flags missing. Hurriedly he raced for the Farragut’s home to talk with Dan and Patsy.
“I tell you they’re gone!” Jeff, panting from his race, stood on the Farragut’s front porch.
“We’ve got to do something now,” Dan agreed. “Come on! Patsy, get the kids on the east, Jeff, take the west and I’ll take south. We’ll get the north kids on the way to the club house. Let’s move!”
The three leading members of the Okeefenokees took off at Dan’s last words as though shot from slingshots. This was no time to loiter. They had work to do.
Uttering the air splitting call of the Okeefenokees, Jeff slowed down only long enough to holler to the kids dashing out of their homes, “Emergency! Club house!” before continuing on his way. No explanations were necessary and within ten minutes from the time Dan had ordered, “Let’s go,” the entire gang of Okeefenokees were gathered in the old shed; some were breathing hard from their frantic race while others still held half eaten sandwiches. Tammy had been in such a hurry that she had left her shoes at home.
Once everyone had at least somewhat caught their breath and Dan could speak without gasping, he stood up and the room fell silent.
“Gang, we’re in trouble.” Pausing, Dan looked about. Every eye was fastened on his face. “The Okeefenokees are suspected of stealing the flags from the Police Memorial at the park. Do any of you have any ideas that might get us out of this mess?” When no one replied, Dan beckoned to Jeff. “Since you know all about it, Jeff, suppose you come up and tell us.”
“I already heard about it,” Red called from the back of the room. “Old Mr. Sanders asked me what we wanted with American flags. I didn’t know what he was talking about at first. Then he told me.”
“Yeah,” Pam added. “Mom said she overheard Mrs. Wheeler and Mr. Overhead talking about it.”
“I suppose it’s all over town now,” Jeff sighed. “But does everyone think it was us?”
Several kids called out “no” and then all fell silent.
“Hey, Jeff,” Levi said, “the flags were there when we played ball this morning. I made it a point to notice them in case your dad asked about them again.”
“Well, when I went by after lunch,” Jeff couldn’t keep back a sigh, “they were gone.”
“Gone?” Tammy snorted. “We hadn’t been gone for more than thirty minutes!” She shoved her hands into her pockets and then quickly pulled them out again. “Hey, where’d it go?”
“What?” several voices asked as heads turned.
“Your Okeefenokee pin?” Patsy asked.
Tammy nodded. “I know I had it when we played ball because the clasp was loose, and I put it in my pocket. Oh, bother!” She pulled her pocket inside-out and stuck her finger through a fairly large hole.
“It must have fallen out,” Addy remarked.
Suddenly Jeff had a terribly uncomfortable feeling creep up his backbone. Turning slowly to Dan, he said in a voice so strange that every member of the Okeefenokees turned to look at him, “Dan, if Tammy lost that pin anywhere near the memorial we’d better find it, fast. Otherwise . . .” His voice trailed off.
For a moment the room was so silent you could have heard a pin drop. Then Dan shouted, “What are we waiting for, the sun to set? Let’s go!”
Mr. Dutton looked out his window in surprise. Never had the Okeefenokees left their club house in such a hurry and with so little noise in the three years they had used his shed. What was going on? They had arrived in a hurry and out of breath too, he had noticed, but that wasn’t unusual. Shaking his head, Mr. Dutton turned from the window as the last of the Okeefenokees disappeared from sight. “I suppose I’ll find out some time,” he murmured.
Hardly had the Hansens begun their supper that night before Jeff blurted out, “Dad, Tammy lost her club pin while we were playing ball. Did anyone find it?”
“When did you discover she had lost her pin?”
“When we met this afternoon for an emergency meeting after I discovered the flags were gone again.”
“You discovered the flags were missing?”
“Yes, sir. But it wasn’t any of us who did it. We had all gone to lunch. But we couldn’t find Tammy’s pin.”
“Hang on a second, Jeff.” Officer Hansen reached into his back pocket and pulled out a little notebook. “Now, suppose you tell me everything you know.”
So, Jeff, eager to help his dad as well as clear up the misunderstanding about the Okeefenokees, told him the entire story of the day’s doings. When he had finished, he asked, “So, can we have Tammy’s pin back?”
It was several minutes before Officer Hansen replied. He was studying the notes he had just written down as well as going over a few old ones. “I’m sorry, Son,” he spoke at last. “I’m afraid I can’t get her pin back until this whole mess is cleared up.”
Jeff was quiet for the rest of the meal. How could the Okeefenokees convince everyone that they had nothing whatever to do with the missing flags from the police memorial? Would they forever be branded as thieves if the real thief wasn’t discovered? They would just have to find the thief. That was all there was to it.
Later, sitting on the floor building a tower of blocks for Baby Emily, Jeff suddenly leaned back on his hands and looked at his father. “Dad, could you ask Chief Gallant not to put any flags out tomorrow?”
Putting down the newspaper, Mr. Hansen shrugged. “It won’t hurt to ask. Do you have an idea for catching the thief?”
“Maybe. I still have to think some things over, but I thought if there weren’t any flags out tomorrow, it might be easier to figure things out on Friday and put the plan to work on Saturday.”
Will you be back next week to see what happens?